Conflict Management: how to act as a manager?


Conflict management in business is a highly valued skill among managers. And for good reason, conflicts can quickly compromise the collaboration and results of an entire team. How to understand it? What pitfalls should you avoid in your resolution? Response elements.

Conflict in business, how to define it?

For Annette Chazoule, Management offer manager at Cegos, “a conflict is the meeting of opposing elements, events and feelings”. It usually confronts two or more people who clash with divergent opinions . The expectations of some are often in opposition to those of others.

“In a context where there is a relationship of interdependence between the actors, such as that of a work organization, the conflict belongs to the domain of the relational, even the emotional  ” , she indicates. In other words: within an entity like a company, there is a conflict when affect comes into play.

 The most common conflicts in business

Learn about the most common types of conflicts and causes.

4 types of conflict in business

There are four types of conflicts in business:

  • A conflict between an employee and his manager , and which can arise following an event, a misunderstanding, a difference of vision... It may or may not require reframing.
  • An interpersonal conflict within a team , which is one of the most complex to resolve.
  • An interpersonal conflict within the same organization .
  • An inter-team conflict , generally easier to resolve because there is less affect. Most often, this type of conflict is linked to competition that arises between teams.

The most common causes

The most widespread conflicts are those between personalities considered irreconcilable . The problem is that these conflicts generally throw the general atmosphere that reigns within a team or organization out of balance.

Conflicts that originate in the division of tasks are also common, especially when communication is not fluid between stakeholders. This is for example the case when an employee does not perform his work correctly and his lack of rigor directly impacts his work colleagues.

Incompatibility with a manager's leadership style is also a potential source of conflict.

Finally, it happens that opposition arises from more serious problems: intimidation, harassment, discrimination, etc.

Conflict management: do they all require manager intervention?

No, not all conflicts require manager intervention. It depends on the situations, “but also on the professional maturity of the people involved and their history within the company,” indicates Annette Chazoule. Overall, a conflict that emerges following a specific event (a clash in a meeting, a situation of demotivation, a team reorganization, etc.) can be resolved without a manager, only with the opposing parties .

Conversely, “conflicts that resurface repeatedly require its intervention,” she states. However, the managerial line is not the only one that can be the trusted third party in a conflict. HR professionals can also intervene. When the conflict is very deep-rooted, a mediator or a coach can also be called upon in the most extreme cases (a change process, a PES, etc.)

How to spot a conflict?

It is up to managers to learn to detect the signals that suggest conflict. “This requires training, in particular to learn to observe the behavior of employees, interpret emotions, non-verbals, etc.,” explains Annette Chazoule.

Overall, any change in an employee's behavior should raise alarms. “  A usually calm person who shifts into aggression or flight is a warning sign,” she illustrates. Likewise, a leader who suddenly becomes passive and gives the impression of giving up needs special attention.

A project that is not moving forward is also an indicator and suggests that the productivity of the work team is hampered by a problem such as, among other things, a conflict.

Conflict management: understanding the causes

 “In most cases, the cause of a conflict arises from a lack of understanding which, itself, hides a fear , ” explains Annette Chazoule. The fear of being ignored, of not being appreciated, of losing one's identity, of not being integrated, of losing one's power of influence (especially in contexts of change). The whole challenge for managers is to understand the fear that lies behind each conflict , even if it is not verbalized by the stakeholders.

This requires active listening on the part of managers and a good ability to observe the behaviors through which fears manifest themselves. From the start of a conflict, managers also have every interest in questioning the way in which they experience it, in order to avoid interpretative biases when they have to intervene. Because the risk is that they allow themselves to be drawn into the conflict and end up taking a stand . However, “the key to resolving it is to be factual, to stay focused on the facts, to question the different parties about their needs, to direct your speech towards solutions,” she recalls.

Mistakes not to make in conflict management

In addition to the avoidance strategy, which consists of burying your head in the sand, the main mistake that hinders the resolution of a conflict is taking an emotional side . “It happens that managers do not take the time to understand the nature of the conflict and are immediately judgmental. It’s better to stick to the facts and try to re-establish a relationship of trust with individuals,” recommends Annette Chazoule.

Another mistake is wanting to resolve the conflict instantly . “Unless it is violent and requires an immediate reaction, it is rather advisable to let the tension – therefore the emotion – subside and try to resolve it two or three days later,  ” she assures. A time that will leave all parties – including managers – to find adequate solutions and prepare for the future.

Finally, the last misstep to avoid is resolving a conflict in front of third parties , for example during a team meeting or in the middle of an open space. “This is neither the place nor the right time to do it,” insists Annette Chazoule.

Conflict management: a concrete example

The facts  : Within a company, an executive specializing in resolving customer issues became the manager of his eight former work colleagues, even though he was the youngest in his team. “This generated a latent conflict between this promoted manager and the members of his team, who did not understand management’s decision,” she says.

The resolution of the conflict was carried out in several stages  : “The first job was to help the young manager assume his new role. He worked on his assertiveness, learned to observe the facts and recognize everyone’s fears,” she explains. His second mission was then to receive each member of his team in order to hear them, in a logic of active listening. On this occasion, the promoted manager asked several open questions such as: "What do you think about the situation?", "What do you feel?", "What do you need to get out of this situation in a positive way? ". “It was then decided to call on HR to carry out mediation work. His role was to work on solutions, not on the conflict itself,” says Annette Chazoule. Thanks to collective intelligence, this conflict did not arise and was quickly resolved.

Teleworking: an obstacle in conflict management

When teams are geographically dispersed and teleworking is required, the conflict appears not only more difficult to identify, but also more complex to resolve. “  Distance exacerbates problems that have already set in . If there is a difficulty within a face-to-face team, it will inevitably develop when they are teleworking  ,” summarizes the Cegos expert.

In other words: it is better not to count on the fact that the conflict will disappear on its own, due to the distance between people with divergent opinions. When a conflict arises in an organization that works in a hybrid manner, it is preferable to avoid resolving the problem through screens , as non-verbal communication is more difficult to interpret. “  It is better, to take into consideration the stakeholders, to say things in person. It will be less frustrating for the different interlocutors  ,” she advises. 

Tools for conflict management

To resolve a conflict, it is possible to use several tools such as:

  • The DESC method invented by Sharon and Gordon Bower. It is the acronym for: Describe the facts, Express your feelings, Specify the expected solution, Conclude positively. In particular, it makes it possible to analyze conflict situations objectively.