Being promoted to a managerial position is an exciting milestone in any career, but with it comes new challenges. One of the most common and inevitable challenges a new manager faces is dealing with conflict within their team. Conflict can arise from various sources, including differences in opinions, work styles, or personal issues. How you handle conflict as a new manager will significantly impact team dynamics, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.
As a new manager in my early twenties, there was so much I had to learn on the job. It was like being a captain on a spaceship after only having watched "Star Wars" as a kid. The services and support offered in this day and age were non-existent at the start of the millenium. Or perhaps they existed but to a much smaller and elite niche.
And because I do not want you to figure it all out by yourself (avoid the crush and burn), let us explore some effective strategies that I have learned a long the way for managing conflict as a new manager.
To handle yourself use your head; to handle others use your heart - Eleanor Roosevelt
Tip #1. Acknowledge the Existence of Conflict:
As a new manager, you might feel tempted to ignore conflict in the hope that it will resolve itself. However, avoiding conflict can make the situation worse over time. Instead, acknowledge that there is a conflict and address it promptly. Open communication is crucial, so schedule a private meeting with the parties involved to discuss the issue calmly and respectfully. You may start off with privately meeting one party at a time. Gather as much information as possible then bring the parties together to sit in deliberation as a team. Remember to stick to the facts.
Tip #2. Actively Listen and Show Empathy:
Conflict often arises due to miscommunication or misunderstandings. It is essential to actively listen to all parties involved without interrupting or passing judgment. Show empathy and try to understand their perspectives. When team members feel heard and understood, they are more likely to be receptive to finding a resolution.
"Empathy is feeling with people." -Brene Brown
Tip #3. Stay Neutral and Unbiased:
Maintaining impartiality is vital when managing conflict. Avoid taking sides or playing favorites, as this can lead to further division within the team. Your role as a manager is to be a mediator and find a solution that benefits everyone involved. So start by managing your own biases so as to stay neutral.
Tip #4. Focus on the Issue, Not the People:
Have you heard the phrase 'separate the behavior from the person' or that 'you are not your behavior?' Before I got into this work I had no idea what that meant afterall the mind and body that displayed the behavior only brought out what was within, right? Learning to do this felt like separating spaghetti with a fork...tricky, but totally doable. During conflict resolution, it's essential to concentrate on the specific problem at hand, rather than blaming individuals. Encourage your team to discuss the facts objectively and avoid personal attacks. This approach will help foster a constructive atmosphere for finding solutions.
Tip #5. Encourage Collaboration:
This can be difficult when team members are fueding already. Nonetheless the more you encourage teamwork and collaboration, not forgeting walking the talk, the more you are likely to address conflict. Brainstorming and problem-solving together can lead to innovative solutions and also promote a sense of unity among team members. Emphasize the importance of working together to achieve common goals.
Tip #6. Set Clear Expectations and Boundaries:
When working with team leaders, I use a tool I call the "Leadership Dashboard" to set clear expectations for a team. In it the leader creates a mission, vision and values (together with his or her team), the edge, initiatives, performance metrics, relationships and development opportunities for the team in general which trickle down to team members.
The leadership dashboard opens the door to clearly defined acceptable behavior and the establishment of boundaries within your team. It is the compass for the expectations within a team. When expectations are explicit, it becomes easier to address conflicts that arise from violating these norms. Make sure everyone on the team understands the consequences of breaching these expectations.
Tip # 7. Offer Coaching and Mentoring:
When you engage a coach and mentoring and offer the same to your team members, you are engaging in the most proactive ways to handling conflict. Coaching can be offered to your more senior team members or high potentials who are candidates for leadership. While the lower cadres are great candidates for mentoring. These initiatives are offered as a one-on-one or in a group setting, where team members have a non-judgemental space to grow within their personal and professional pursuits.
However, if there happens to be a conflict and it is challenging to resolve and there is no provision for coaching and mentoring, consider offering mediation or involving higher management to assist in finding a resolution. Professional mediation can help parties communicate more effectively and reach an agreement that satisfies both parties.
Tip #8. Lead by Example:
As a new manager, your behavior sets the tone for the entire team. Demonstrate effective conflict resolution skills in your interactions with others. Show respect and professionalism, even when faced with difficult situations. Your team will be more likely to emulate your behavior.
Tip #9. Learn from Past Conflicts:
Every conflict presents an opportunity for growth and learning. After resolving a conflict, take time to assess the situation and identify the underlying causes. Use this insight to prevent similar conflicts in the future and continuously improve your conflict management skills.
Tip #10. Foster a Positive Team Culture:
Promote a positive team culture where open communication, feedback, and respect are valued. Encourage a supportive environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns and seek assistance when needed.
In order to support new managers/leaders in organizations, I designed a 2-Day Positive Leadership Training that equips new managers with the essential skills and mindset needed to foster a supportive and motivating work environment. By emphasizing positive communication, empathy, and constructive feedback, you can build stronger relationships with your teams, boosting employee morale, engagement, and productivity. Additionally, positive leadership promotes a culture of trust and openness, which enables you to effectively address challenges and conflicts, leading to higher team cohesion and improved overall performance.
As a new manager, mastering conflict management is essential for building a cohesive and high-performing team. Conflict itself is not inherently negative; it's how you address it that matters. By actively listening, staying neutral, promoting collaboration, and leading by example, you can create a harmonious work environment where conflicts are effectively resolved, and your team can thrive.
Remember, conflict is an opportunity for growth and better understanding, and it's an integral part of the journey toward becoming an exceptional manager.
You can learn more about solving conflict in these my favorite titles of mine;
And if you struggle with handling conflict within your team and would like to hear what it would like to work one-on-one with an expert coach in this area click here to schedule a free consultation.
*Disclaimer: The information in this blog is based on general principles and may not address specific situations. Always consider your organization's policies and seek advice from HR or higher management when handling significant conflicts.*