Written by Pierce Lydon • August 30, 2023
You get a group of people together and chances are, given enough time, conflict will arise. That conflict might be as trivial as what to order for lunch, but conflict there surely will be. And conflict doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Conflict shows that people care, and when handled intentionally and with respect, conflict can lead to improved outcomes, including closer relationships.
Office managers often find themselves in a position where they need to resolve conflict, because of the people-facing aspect of their role. We’re sharing three strategies for office managers to successfully resolve conflict in the workplace.
Emotion generally accompanies most conflict, and heightened emotions may lead to impassioned language or reduced verbal inhibition. When being an intermediary for a conflict, it’s important to recognize and point out when language becomes negative, accusatory, or even derogatory. Encouraging everyone to speak with positive language may be beneficial for the overall company environment, especially in times of conflict.
One way to increase positive language is to encourage the use of language that focuses on the “I.” When both or all parties are present in a conversation about the conflict, request that everyone uses “I” statements. These types of statements begin with the first person, i.e. “I feel…” or “I want…” When people talk about what’s true for them, they avoid starting sentences with “you,” which can get into accusatory space and ultimately lead to reduced opportunity for resolution.
Positive conversation also means that everyone gets a chance to talk about their ideas, needs, or feelings. If you’re mediating a dialogue, ensure that everyone gets to speak. That being said, it’s also helpful to recognize when it’s a good time to have a conversation and when conversations aren’t heading in a positive direction. When the conversation becomes heated, it might be a good time to suggest a break or to find another time to continue the dialogue after everyone has a chance to cool off.
Conflict occurs when people disagree, specifically in the workplace when people disagree about a way of doing things, a way of seeing things, a way of moving ahead, or the values embedded in the work. Looking at the silver lining of conflict, it shows that people care enough about what they’re doing at work to raise issues with one another.
Conflict can be a healthy experience. It can bring colleagues closer together when resolved in a respectful way, and it can lead to better company outcomes. Conflict is an opportunity to realign your colleagues around a common goal. This common goal may be the company’s mission, or it may be a specific KPI relevant to both or all parties. The common goal might also be a stronger professional relationship, which gives the resolution a greater sense of gravity.
When conversing about solutions to the conflict, see if you can center the conversation around what everyone has in common and the shared direction. When starting with an end goal, everyone can work backwards to determine the next steps, which can be a helpful way to find a resolution to the conflict.
Even if you have an opinion or personal belief about the conflict, as the office manager, try to remain objective and neutral. This may be easier said than done, but showing that you see both or all sides of the conflict can be helpful as you mediate conversations about the conflict and navigate the situation.
To show that you’re neutral, you can ask the following questions to every party involved:
In response to their answers to those questions, maintain an objective stance by confirming that they’ve been heard, but without agreeing, disagreeing, or offering your opinion. For some situations, individuals might just want to be sure that their thoughts are respected. Showing kindness and respect throughout the conflict can help everyone feel that the resolution is fair and productive.
Navigating conflict resolution in the workplace can be difficult, so remember that you were hired into the role of office manager for a reason — there are many people that have confidence in your ability to support teams, and you have the skills you need to help people come together rather than fall apart. When a resolution arrives, don’t forget to feel proud of your involvement and your contributions towards a way forwards!