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One of the skills that separates great leaders from good leaders is the ability to assist in resolving conflicts in the workplace.

Conflict is a fact of life in the workplace. Great leaders know how to handle it to the benefit of all involved.

Psychology research has demonstrated that from a very young age, people expect leaders to play a role in resolving grievances and correcting injustice. Most adults don’t expect leaders to magically fix interpersonal conflicts, but they do look to their leaders for assistance.

Many leadership coaching programs address conflict resolution, but they may not adequately emphasize the importance of good conflict resolution skills in leaders. Here are five key skills that help leaders with conflict resolution, so their teams and their organizations can perform to their fullest capability.

1. Good Timing

Conflict resolution does not benefit from procrastination. Leaders who sit back and hope that conflicts will work themselves outset everyone up for a much more difficult conflict resolution process. Once there is hard evidence that a problem is affecting performance, it’s time to act.

By requiring real evidence, you avoid having to intervene in trivial incidents that blow over by themselves. But by acting once there is evidence of a problem, you prevent that problem from becoming unmanageable.

2. Respecting Individual Differences

Diversity is good for businesses. And this means that leaders, when mediating conflicts between team members, must respect the differences in backgrounds and viewpoints involved. The best way to respect individual differences is to take the time to get to know team members. A leader who is detached to the point of not knowing what team members bring to the table in terms of experience is not best equipped to understand the problem and help those in conflict reach a satisfactory resolution.

3. Asking Good Questions

The purpose of questions is to get to the truth. When detectives arrive at the scene of a crime, they start asking questions, and those questions are supposed to get at the truth of what transpired. It’s important not to ask presumptive or loaded questions, or to depend entirely on yes-or-no questions.

Know how to ask questions to get to the truth behind a conflict.

Questions that begin with the standard, “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how” are good for gathering information. Each party to the conflict should be consulted with individually, in confidence. Don’t forget that silence itself can work as a question, prompting people to volunteer additional information. And when the other person is talking, don’t interrupt. Interrupting shows you don’t value what they’re saying and halts their train of thought.

4. Listening Effectively

Active listening techniques are valuable in conflict resolution. Focus on the speaker exclusively and attempt to paraphrase back to them what they’re saying. Sincere, active listening helps you build a stronger connection and trust with the person you’re talking to, and it helps you identify and solve problems. Furthermore, it helps you avoid missing out on crucial information.

In fact, active listening is good practice in the workplace in general. Some leadership development programs teach it, but you can learn on your own. Focusing on what the other person is saying and resisting the urge to think about how you’re going to respond helps you gather information and avoid jumping to conclusions.

5. Putting Accountability into Conflict Resolution

When, with the assistance of the people in conflict, you mutually develop solutions, you must hold everyone accountable. If you have a role in ongoing resolution to the conflict, hold yourself accountable too.

Ensuring accountability means stating to each person involved in the conflict that you expect them to stick to their role in resolution. This means you will have to follow up regularly, especially in the early stages of resolution. This not only helps ensure ongoing resolution of the conflict but also shows that you as leaders support everyone involved.

Conflict resolution skills can turn a good leader into an exceptional one. It’s not easy, and nobody enjoys mediating conflict, but sometimes leadership demands it. Leadership coaching can help leaders develop and sharpen their conflict resolution skills. If you’re interested in exploring leadership development and executive coaching, I encourage you to learn more about my leadership coaching services. 

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