Conflict Resolution Strategies for Inclusive Leaders

What does it take to resolve disputes in the workplace? Explore why conflict resolution is important and how to implement conflict resolution strategies.
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Team members on a project disagree, creating friction among co-workers. An employee shoots down a colleague’s ideas, making the colleague feel undermined. A salesperson submits reports late, sparking impatience and resentment. Workplace conflicts can create a cycle of negativity.

Inclusive leaders help teams overcome the tensions that disrupt productivity and morale. Inclusive leadership emphasizes the importance of equitable treatment and focuses on ensuring that all employees feel they belong and are respected. Inclusive leaders embrace differences and value all employees. 

When conflicts arise, inclusive leaders encourage the resolution of grievances and help teams find common ground. When inclusive leaders apply conflict resolution strategies, they celebrate the unique value of every employee. 

Why Constructive Conflict Resolution Matters

Many conflicts in the workplace reflect genuine disagreements about work methods and goals. Other circumstances that can lead to workplace conflicts include:

  • Differences in personality
  • Perceptions of unequally distributed resources
  • Unclear work roles
  • Misunderstandings and poor communication
  • Systemic changes, including mergers or workforce slowdowns

When leaders across an organization apply conflict resolution processes in ways that support all employees, everyone benefits. Constructive conflict resolution processes give leaders various collaborative techniques to use, such as bargaining and accommodation, as they help resolve disagreements.

To start, effective conflict resolution strategies protect working relationships. By giving people a process for addressing differences in respectful ways, inclusive leaders help employees come to amicable understandings. This helps people in conflict gain insights about one another and keeps professional relationships intact.

Additionally, effective conflict resolution programs help employees get back to work — unresolved disagreements often affect a person’s focus and performance on the job. In fact, failing to effectively manage workplace conflicts costs organizations a great deal. Workplace conflicts affect individual performance, leading to absenteeism, unnecessary errors, and missed deadlines. They also result in festering tensions that spread across entire departments, eroding morale and diminishing trust. 

For instance, if a team feels one of its members isn’t pulling their weight, but management fails to address the problem, animosity may develop. The team may see the failure to respond as favoritism or incompetence on the part of leadership. Individuals may complain to employees outside of their team, breeding widespread distrust and dissatisfaction.

Additionally, failing to address conflicts effectively sometimes results in disciplinary actions, such as employee suspensions or terminations, or even lawsuits. These outcomes inevitably hit an organization’s bottom line.  

How to Implement Inclusive Conflict Resolution Strategies

Thoughtful conflict management fosters a positive organizational culture that’s characterized by fairness. Consider the following conflict resolution strategies and ways to implement them.

Choose a Neutral Space to Talk

When addressing conflicts, inclusive leaders start by choosing a neutral space to talk. Neutral environments keep everyone on equal footing and encourage constructive conversations. They also promote a sense of fairness, which is key to establishing inclusiveness.

Inclusive leaders choose a quiet location where intrinsic power dynamics don’t exist, so everyone can feel equally comfortable. For example, arranging to meet in the office of one of the conflicting parties would give them an unfair advantage, as they would be in familiar territory while the other party could perceive themselves in hostile territory. Conducting conflict resolution in a supervisor’s office might make both parties feel a bit like children called into the principal’s office. 

Neutral locations, on the hand, have no emotional ties for either party. They also offer privacy so no one feels on display for ridicule. 

It’s worth noting that neutral can mean different things to different people. What seems neutral to one person might feel overwhelming or unsafe to another. As such, inclusive leaders might invite the parties in dispute to offer suggestions of neutral locations. Additionally, inclusive leaders might consider offering alternative conflict resolution processes to accommodate the needs and preferences of diverse employees.   

Set Ground Rules

To further establish a tone of neutrality and fairness, inclusive leaders work with the conflicting parties to set ground rules. These rules offer a framework for keeping the conversation respectful and balanced. To ensure the inclusivity of the boundary-setting process, each party has a chance to contribute to what the ground rules are.

Examples of effective ground rules might include:

  • We will focus on finding a solution both parties find acceptable.
  • We will speak to each other in a professional manner and not insult or personally attack one another.
  • We will not interrupt one another and will instead listen to what the other party says before responding. 

In addition to getting consensus from all parties on ground rules, inclusive leaders show sensitivity to language choices. Some terms have coded meanings. If these words appear, inclusive can work with both parties to unpack any hidden biases. 

For example, an inclusive leader may start a discussion about the term “professional,” noting that often people’s perception of “professional” behavior shifts according to who the question is applied to. What is considered professional behavior for a woman of color may look different from that of a white man.     

Be Mindful of Biases

Inclusive leaders should be mindful of their biases, implicit or otherwise. Biases skew how a person handles the mediation process. They affect the type and phrasing of questions and influence the way a mediator directs a conflict resolution meeting, inadvertently favoring one party over another. This can result in a less than fair outcome. 

It’s especially important to consider how systemic and cultural bias can impact historically marginalized individuals and how these types of bias can play out in the workplace. For example, if a person of color doesn't trust their manager enough to speak openly about workplace issues, managers have to be aware of the systemic and historical causes of this reluctance. 

Eliminating biases requires a certain amount of self-examination. Being aware of potential biases helps weed them out. Additionally, slowing down to consider personal attitudes and assumptions can also help identify biases. 

Inclusive leaders consider their opinions and judgments prior to attempts at conflict resolution and then they ask themselves, “What if the opposite is true?” This approach allows inclusive leaders to engage conflict resolution efforts with more curiosity and greater transparency. It also helps keep biases in check.   

Allow Everyone to Share Their Positions

To arrive at resolutions most agreeable to everyone, all parties need a chance to express themselves. Inclusive leaders allot an equal amount of time for each side to present their views and concerns. They also make sure everyone has enough time to fully express themselves. This way, participants can clarify the points of disagreement and shed light on what needs resolution. 

Before each party shares their side, inclusive leaders and participants discuss ways to keep an open mind to the ideas and opinions of others. The point is not to prove who has the better argument but rather to listen attentively. 

To maintain an atmosphere of inclusion, leaders avoid showing any signs of favor or agreement with one party over the other. It’s essential they model a calm disposition, emphasizing that people think more clearly when calm. Inclusive leaders mediate any interruptions and remind everyone to focus on building understanding even when they don’t agree. 

Guide Parties Toward Finding Common Ground

Managers working in conflict resolution may feel tempted to supply solutions and move on. However, inclusive leaders avoid this top-down approach, which is counter to values of inclusion. 

Instead, they offer guidance that helps people find their own common ground. After all, the individuals in conflict know the details of the situation better than anyone else, and this gives them an advantage when it comes to finding solutions that stick. 

Creative Problem-Solving Strategies

The guidance given by inclusive leaders might involve leading creative problem-solving activities, such as a brainstorming session. Or, they may invite each party to describe the feelings of the opposing side to build empathy. With empathy, the parties may feel more inclined to be flexible.

Another technique inclusive leaders can use to guide conflicting parties toward resolution is reframing. During mediations, participants sometimes speak in negative or accusatory ways. This tone provokes defensiveness, however, and it can discourage cooperation.   

To remedy this, inclusive leaders can repeat a speaker’s original statements after recasting them using neutral language and a neutral tone. In this way, inclusive leaders unobtrusively reframe exchanges into more palatable conversations that allow people to hear the underlying content of what’s being said.   

Promote Conflict Resolution as an Inclusive Leader