Global Leadership Blog

4 Ways Good Managers Handle Conflict

When Ann Coulter went to Twitter to share her outrage at Delta Airlines for changing her pre-booked seat, Delta fired back, and a fiery conflict ensued.

Was this the best way to handle conflict? Maybe, if you want a bunch of bad press.

However, when it comes to managing a team, bad PR is the last thing you want. You need productivity, efficiency, and results.

Here are four easy ways to handle conflict, so you never have to deal with the stress of it again.

1. Get drinks or go for a walk.

When you’re putting together a team, the first order of business is to bond. Spend time together and get to know each other on a personal level. Because, when you build relationships, you build a strong foundation of trust so that when conflicts inevitably arise, you’re equipped to handle them.

2. Assume the worst.

Know that conflict is going to happen. It will. So prepare by establishing strategies for how you’re going to work through them. Some teams I work with bring in a third-party to mediate disagreements and handle conflicts.

Other teams have set times on a regular basis to air issues. Others have managers that tell team members to bring them the big problems if they can’t figure it out amongst themselves.

3. Poke the bear.

This may sound a little nutty, but teams actually want conflict. That’s because a difference of ideas and opinions is often a catalyst for growth. The enemy of innovation is groupthink.

So, aim to surface conflict by asking provocative questions such as, “what are three things you’re unhappy with?” or “what’s the worst idea this group has ever come up with?”

Then, facilitate the conversation in a productive manner in which you break the team into small groups, talk about issues, report them out, and then find solutions together.

If you can’t do this successfully, consider using an outside facilitator.

4. Don’t ignore it.

If a situation starts to get heated, don’t shy away from it. Dive right in and address the problem directly. Put in play the conflict management strategies you previously outlined. Bring the parties together, have them discuss the situation, and then challenge them to solve the problem.

Give your team a clear reminder of its overall goal, everyone’s role in contributing to that goal, and how members benefit individually. This will help keep the conversation productive.

When addressing conflict, many people aren’t equipped with the right way to do so. They are overcome with fear of offending someone or being vulnerable. Many people are too nice, and others just explode. But really, it’s a question of semantics.

To help, here are some phrases you can use to jumpstart a constructive conversation:

  • From my perspective, I see it as X.
  • You’re right about X. However, to address X, we need to Y.
  • It seems like things aren’t running as smoothly as they could and I would like to discuss this with you.
  • We may have a misunderstanding, so, I want to be clear on where I stand.

It’s also essential to address conflict directly, face-to-face when possible (as opposed to over email, text or phone), and have measurable objectives that give a backbone to your point of view.

Diverse cultures may handle conflicts differently, using other strategies or words. You may need to adapt your style or language. But my advice is still the same, address conflict head-on before it becomes a crisis. And, if you need help dealing with conflict in your company, contact me.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: Wavebreakmediamicro/123RF


Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson