Conflict in Leadership

Conflict is inevitable in workplace settings, and conflicts can arise between co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates. Expect to encounter conflict in every type of business. Managing conflict through diplomatic language can excel one’s career, whether you are in a leadership role, or working towards one. When resolved properly, conflicts can lead to better ideas, better understanding, and better working relationships.

Every leader has their own way of leading their team. Everybody has a different leadership style, and everybody reacts differently to those leadership styles. Some staff will get on tremendously with one manager, but will have no time for another.

It can be quite common for employees to have a different opinion to their manager, especially if the manager is new to the company. Some leaders are very set in their ways and don’t care too much about putting anyone’s nose out of joint as they introduce their management outlook into the company.

Leading can be difficult, especially if tensions are high due to conflict. In order to get everything back to normal and running like clockwork, it’s important to resolve a situation as soon as possible, for the good of the company.

Here is a list of things that can be done to achieve that goal:

  1. Lay The Groundwork

  2. Describe The Conflict

  3. Gain Perspective

  4. Find a Solution

  5. Develop an Action Plan


1. Lay The Groundwork

Start by creating an open atmosphere of constructive criticism and problem-solving. Staff need to understand that you’re focused on the future, not the past; and that you’re optimistic things will work out. Follow these guidelines to set the stage for problem-solving:

  • Express your sincere desire to understand

  • Admit responsibility for your contribution and ask what you can do to make amends

  • Emphasize the need to work together to achieve a mutually satisfactory solution


2. Describe The Conflict

Clearly describe to the employee what you’ve witnessed, or what your perspective is on the situation. Talk honestly and directly. Express your emotions, but choose your words carefully, keeping them both courteous and professional. Explain how you feel and why. While many people are uncomfortable talking about emotions in the workplace, it’s better to express emotions in an appropriate way rather than putting them on the back-burner:

  • Express information in a way that casts no blame

  • Be sure that expressing emotions is helpful

  • Don’t let personal feelings interfere with the process

  • Be specific and use “I” instead of “You”

Instead of…

Why not try…


  • You are to blame for this mess!

  • I feel bad…

  • …and I’m disappointed that the conflict came to this point.

  • …that things have escalated to this stage.

  • Every time there’s an incident, it’s always you!

  • I am frustrated because…

  • …we haven’t come to a conclusion. Can we go over everything again?

  • You need to listen to me.

  • I want to try to understand

  • …so let’s get to the bottom of this.

  • You’re the reason for all of this.

  • Let me start by saying I apologise for my part in all of this.

  • Let’s work through it and find a solution.


3. Gain Perspective

This can’t be stressed enough – Keep an open mind.

When a manager won’t listen to an employee’s perspective on a situation, the working relationship starts to break down and peel away. Staff can begin to lose trust in their leader if situations are not dealt with in the right manner.

What questions can be asked to understand the perspectives of others?

Practice active listening and try to understand another’s side of a situation. Acknowledge when you listen, and understand by rephrasing, restating, or summarizing; and ask for examples to clarify any issues that you don’t understand.

4. Find a Solution

Come up with possible solutions that help further everyone’s motives, goals, and agendas. Everyone needs to feel like they’ve come out the other side a winner, in some way. Generate new ideas for everyone involved. Express alternative viewpoints in the form of a question, such as, “Would another solution be…?”

Most importantly, be willing to compromise. Remember, you’re looking for a solution, not a victory.


5. Develop an Action Plan

A plan must be established with specific actions that every party is willing to take to implement the solution. Express appreciation for everything that everyone has contributed to the problem-solving session. Communicate your willingness to meet again to check on progress.

The staff member(s) involved will appreciate a good level of dialogue and discussion. Adopt a positive attitude toward the conflict, find the best in people and in the situation, and maintain your sense of humor. Absorbing these lessons will make you a proficient leader who’s able to resolve conflict.

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