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Conflict in the workplace - how the right mindset can help

Multiple deadlines, difficult clients, lengthy daily commutes: modern-day office life is hard enough without unnecessary workplace conflict.

Written by Chris Zacharia |

HR staff conducting a meeting
Successful managers must identify different kinds of conflict, and ideally they should do so before the conflict begins.

Yet, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, almost 40% of us have experienced a clash in the office within the last year. Despite all the transformations of work, such as co-working spaces, flexible hours, digital technology, ‘office politics’ remains depressingly familiar to generations of employees. Personalities clash, departments squabble, and people can become adversarial.

As well as causing pain, workplace disputes can tear teams apart and cost organisations millions.

Whether you’re a manager or subordinate, it’s not easy. But with the right mental framework, workplace conflict can be harnessed into something much more positive - when it can’t be avoided outright.

University of London’s Global MBA offers a specialist module in negotiation and conflict management. As cornerstones of leadership, these two related disciplines are vital to the successful management of any company.

Designed to rigorously train students in the art and science of reaching agreements and resolving disputes, this module helps to ensure that when they graduate with their Global MBA they’re ready to make the step up as senior decision-makers.

“Conflicts aren't just personal squabbles,” says Dr Dimitrios Koufopoulos, Programme Director of the Global MBA. “As well as causing pain, workplace disputes can tear teams apart and cost organisations millions. That’s why these skills are so vital.”

Successful managers must identify different kinds of conflict, and ideally they should do so before the conflict begins. There are a number of tools, including new technologies, designed to help provide an understanding of different cultural and personal standpoints, simulate individual reactions, and identify potential trouble spots before they happen.

Managers must be able to identify different types of conflict, manage and harness conflict to make it beneficial to organisational and personal growth.

One of the key practical skills taught on the Global MBA’s Negotiation and Conflict Management module is being able to harness conflict for the good of the organisation. This may sound like a contradiction, but workplace conflict can end up being useful - if it’s handled well. Disputes often occur where employees feel strongly about particular issues. Skilful managers understand how to tap into this wellspring of energy, in ways that minimise the collateral damage to their teams.

“Negotiation and conflict management are the cornerstones of leadership,” explains Dr Koufopoulos. “Managers must be able to identify different types of conflict, manage and harness conflict to make it beneficial to organisational and personal growth.”

Once an area of disagreement has been identified, the right resolution framework needs to be chosen. The module offers hands-on approaches for understanding different types of workplace conflict and the means to achieve its resolution. Managers can then select the right methodology for the dispute. A personal conflict between a manager and their subordinate requires a different approach than a creative disagreement between an organisation and their client, for example. Knowing these methodologies makes managers stronger, more insightful and more successful.

Finally, conflict resolution is about more than just restoring the peace. Leaders who possess a strong grasp of conflict management can even use it to help employees grow. Workplace disputes can make employees encounter their own values, strengths, and weaknesses, in a direct and public way. The best leaders have to vision to understand the journey that each employee is on, coaching them to anticipate, accept and overcome these personal challenges. The end result is a more skilful and self-aware workforce, an asset for any company.

“That’s why the module applies practical skills, complemented with substantive knowledge to round out the skill sets of our students, making them highly effective leaders and managers,” says Dr Koufopoulos.

Ultimately, conflict in the workplace isn’t going to disappear. But, using the fundamental tenets of management, as offered in our Global MBA, can make the difference between an ugly office spat and an enlightening opportunity for growth and understanding.

Discover how the Global MBA can improve your negotiation and conflict management skills and make you a better leader.