Communicating Through Conflict – Top 5 tips to help Managers AND Employees!

Conflict between managers and employees is one of the main reasons for resigning. Workplace conflict can be time consuming and costly, especially for small businesses. You can’t avoid conflict. It’s a normal and sometimes, healthy part of human existence. However, it can also destroy self-esteem, damage businesses, careers and mental health and potentially lead to legal action. The answer? Find out below!

Why don’t managers and employees communicate better?

Here are a few reasons which we can all identify with:

  • They haven’t been trained in effective communication;
  • They don’t feel confident enough to express their needs and wishes;
  • They perceive that they won’t be heard meaningfully;
  • They may have been raised with a conflict style which excludes confrontation as an option;
  • They believe communication is unnecessary. The other party should simply know what the problem is!

The reasons above apply to both managers and employees and can be experienced between any person in any conflict context.

What is key to empowering managers and employees is giving them the tools to have effective conversations that resolve conflict early.

Top 5 Tips for communicating through conflict

  1. Listen actively. Conflict can escalate rapidly when somebody feels unheard. It can tap into perceptions of prejudice, feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and can incite anger. As a manager or employee, it helps to summarise verbally the focus of what the other is saying, rephrase negative comments in more positive language and state what you observe about their emotions (don’t blame or belittle – see tip 2!). All of this demonstrates that you are listening and it should be done either positively or at the very least, neutrally.
  2. Bin the blame game! Blaming, attacking, judging and intimidation can increase feelings of anger or resentment. This often manifests through micro-managing, criticism, intense competition and hierarchical, high pressured environments. It encourages destructive conflict which affects morale and increases tension. This is bad news for productivity and mental well-being.
  3. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. When you feel strongly about something that has negatively affected you, this is a tough one to get right. However, your tone should be neutral, calm and professional. Make sure you slow down the pace of what you are saying and breathe deeply if you feel yourself getting irritated. Your arms should not be folded and your facial expressions should not reflect any displeasure when listening.
  4. Reassure the other that you intend to cooperate in finding a mutual solution. Communicating this directly, encourages trust and openness. If trust has gone, bring that up and talk about how you could both re-build it and how you will know once it has been restored. The first step to this is making sure that it is understood that you are open and willing to have a constructive conversation.
  5. Communication in this context can also be effective in writing. Especially when tensions are high. Consider this option if you are worried about your emotions getting the better of you or you find it hard to think of what to say when confronted verbally. It’s a good idea to read and re-read what you write and take enough time to scrutinise the tone and language you use. Remember, you should keep in mind tip 2 and 4 regardless of your method of communication; it’s not a chance to moan, insult or blame.

It’s not easy and takes practice but you can use these skills to have better, more satisfying relationships. Learning to communicate your needs and views in a confident, calm and well considered manner will empower you and increase your credibility as a professional. You will not be able to control your emotions (that’s just their nature!) but you can learn how to express them in ways that elevate your relationships to higher levels of growth for all involved.

What are your experiences? Contact me for help and advice!

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