Conflict Management Skills List and Examples
It’s hard to avoid conflict entirely, both in the workplace and elsewhere in life. It’s human nature to disagree. In fact, eliminating conflict entirely would cause its own problems: there would be no diversity of opinion and no way for us to catch and correct flawed plans and policies.
But poor communication or interpersonal tension can easily cause simple disagreements to flare up into resentment or worse. Conflicts that are allowed to fester and grow will ultimately diminish productivity and damage staff morale. This is why employers seek employees with the skills to manage and diffuse conflict.
Types of Workplace Conflict
Not all conflicts are alike, nor can they be managed as if they were alike. A confrontation with an angry customer is very different than a personal tiff between co-workers or friction with one’s own supervisor. Likewise, some conflicts occur when people disagree on how to do the right thing, while others involve actual malice. The key question is usually who has more power within the company and whether either party has direct authority over the other.
Conflicts can be addressed directly by the parties involved, or with the intervention of supervisors, human resources staff, union officials, or professional mediators. The process might involve a casual conversation or the filing of a formal grievance. In virtually all cases, handling conflict and achieving conflict resolution involves the same core set of skills.
Be Prepared to Share Examples
Strong conflict management skills are an advantage in many positions; at the very least, an employee who has such skills causes less conflict for other people to manage, creating a smoother work environment overall. Hiring managers may or may not be searching for conflict management skills explicitly. However, many of these same abilities could fall under other headings, such as teamwork or leadership. Check the job description for indications of how you should frame what you can do when you go to write your resume and cover letter.
Examples of Conflict Management Skills
If a job announcement specifies “conflict management” in the description, be prepared to share examples of how you have handled conflicts at work during job interviews. Review these four primary conflict management skills, with their accompanying examples, for ideas on what to mention.
Much unnecessary conflict can be avoided simply with clear, accurate written and verbal communication; a single lost email could lead to failed plans and pointing fingers. Assumptions about what other people already know, think, or intend can cause resentment or worse. Many people argue simply because they want to feel heard. Simply being a good listener can be enough to inspire trust and resolve hurt feelings. Examples of good communication skills include:
- Addressing problems quickly before they reach crisis stage
- Drawing out the perspective and feelings of reluctant participants
- Formalizing an agreement between combatants (in writing when feasible)
- Listening without interruption as parties share their perspective
- Meeting with parties individually to identify grievances
- Modeling reasonable dialogue
- Reflecting significant conflict-provoking behaviors in performance appraisals
- Teaching alternative behaviors to avoid triggering conflict
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand one’s own feelings and those of others, and to handle those feelings well. People who have high emotional intelligence are good at identifying and meeting the needs of others while taking responsibility for their own needs and feelings. A few ways they do this are:
- Asserting feelings without blaming
- Compromising to accommodate others
- Forgiving transgressions
- Identifying triggers to conflict
- Recognizing improvements on the part of antagonists
- Setting ground rules for productive dialogue
- Showing respect
- Willingness to modify behavior
Empathy means feeling what others feel. The ability to see a situation from someone else’s viewpoint, to understand their needs, motivations, and possible misunderstandings, is critical to effective conflict management. Some people are naturally more empathic than others, but empathy can be developed.
At its most useful, empathy is augmented by an intellectual understanding of another’s situation, since emotional empathy alone can sometimes create complicated enmeshments. Empathy is best applied in a work environment when paired with critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and other types of discernment. Hallmarks of empathy include:
- Commitment to resolving problems
- Demonstrating understanding regarding the feelings and needs of the parties involved
- Identifying non-verbal cues indicating frustration and anger
- Recognizing the existence of a problem
Creative Problem Solving
Understanding and communication are all very well and good, but do not help much if you don’t have a solution for the underlying problem, whatever that problem may be. Conflict often happens because no one can come up with a workable solution, so resolving the conflict depends on creating a solution. That makes problem-solving an in-demand skill for employers. Examples of problem-solving conflicts in the workplace include:
- Brainstorming solutions that accommodate both parties
- Convening a meeting of the parties involved in a conflict
- Creativity in problem-solving
- Designating sanctions for non-compliance with agreements
- Integrating goals for harmonious collaboration into performance plans
- Monitoring compliance with agreements
- Reconfiguring relationships and roles to avoid conflict-prone interactions
The Goal of Conflict Management
Conflict management skills revolve around making sure everyone feels heard and respected while negotiating a mutually beneficial solution that everyone involved can accept. It does not necessarily involve pleasing everyone or removing any and all disagreement. Conflict can be necessary and good, and the goal of conflict management is to make sure that any disagreement remains productive and professional.