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Conflict Resolution At Work

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

by Alan Staten


If you’ve ever served on the board of a home owner’s association then you’ve experienced how dicey conflict resolution can be. Now imagine overseeing more than 100 of those boards and you’ll get a glimpse into my world. When you manage home owners associations, condominium and townhome associations, and commercial owners associations for a living like I do, you’d better learn to resolve conflicts quickly or you’re not going to last long. Here are a few tips I’ve discovered over my years that may help you soothe the savage beast when conflict rears its ugly head in the workplace.


Above all else, learn to be a good listener. No matter how irrational a person or a point of view may seem on the surface, you’ll do well to let each party calmly say their peace and be heard. People immediately feel validated just by someone empathetically listening and making an honest effort to understand their feelings. To put it simply: Keep calm, and just listen.


Next, try to identify the true source of the conflict. Often disagreements arise as a manifestation of another problem entirely and the conflict at hand is really just a mechanism for venting over a larger, underlying issue. While there are dozens of causes for conflict in the workplace, I’ve found that more often than not it comes down to one of three fundamental problems:


  • Poor Communication: This is the most common and fortunately usually the easiest to resolve. So often people develop an incorrect perception, concern or fear simply because they don’t have accurate information. First ensure the conflicted parties have all the correct facts. If not, seek to discover why information was miscommunicated. What can we do to avoid a repeat? Is there transparency and a free flow of information or do employees often feel “in the dark” or left out?
  • Differing Values: No big surprise that we all come from different backgrounds and belief systems and may have different needs. What is hard to understand is how often our uniqueness is perceived as threatening, offensive or just wrong. It is important that employees learn to accept the fact that at times they are going to see things differently from each other and that’s okay. Have you built a culture that fosters openness, acceptance and understanding among employees? Or is it a culture of cliques, gossip and dissention? Fix the culture and you’ll fix a myriad of other problems as well— including a lot of conflicts.
  • Personality Clashes: We’ve all seen this— two people who just do not get along for any particular reason other than they just don’t. Clashes in communications style, work ethic, sense of humor, personal demeanor and organizational skills only scratch the surface as to why we irritate each other, but sometimes we do. It may be the single biggest contributor to conflicts in the workplace so as managers we’ve got be exemplary in our own interactions and train our people to come to terms with the issue. People don’t have to be best friends to cooperate and be productive. More often than not, this too comes down to developing and maintaining a culture of respect and openness for each other. Closing your eyes and counting slowly to ten is also a big help.


Once you have identified the key underlying issue, you are in a much better place to seek out and identify common ground and ultimately a reasonable compromise. Ideally, all parties involved want to walk away feeling that they got something and achieved at least part of their goal. There are no real winners or losers in effective conflict resolution nor should that even be a desired outcome. I find that more often than not, just getting the conflicting parties to sit down at the same table together to face each other and talk things out is a huge step toward finding a mutually agreeable and beneficial solution.


Don’t be fooled—it’s not easy. Resolving conflicts can be stressful and your ability to manage that stress while remaining pleasant, alert and objective is crucial to the process. If you feel like you’re in a room full of insanity—you may be right. You may be the sole voice of reason in the moment so you’ve got to keep it together. Show your willingness to explore all options, brainstorm ideas and possible solutions, and maintain an air of respect and professionalism in the room. If these key factors are followed, what usually results is all parties having a better understanding of each other’s positions and feelings, leaving them open to negotiate a mutually satisfying outcome.


The good news is it does get better over time. Most of us would rather avoid conflict than meet it head on. Yet the more you learn to resolve problems quickly, and to retrain your thinking to focus on the positive progress and peace successful conflict resolution will create, the easier and even more enjoyable it becomes.








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