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Managing Workplace Conflict Without Freezing: 5 Powerful Skills to Help

Unsurprisingly, managing workplace conflict stands as a core function of human resources (HR) professionals. But let’s face it, no amount of classroom learning can truly prepare you for the real-world complexities of dealing with actual humans . . . we can be complicated creatures. 

Sure, your college textbooks might have given you a nice foundation, maybe you’ve even read a book or two on the subject or received some additional training since then.

But as you might be discovering, navigating workplace dynamics often involves more complexity and nuance, which calls for something beyond textbook strategies.

In this blog, we’ll dive into practical strategies to empower you to navigate workplace conflicts with confidence and ease. And here’s the secret ingredient: adopting a coach approach. By blending your HR expertise with tried-and-true coaching skills, you’ll be able to not only resolve conflicts but also create more buy-in, empower employees to create their own solutions, and experience less freezing under pressure. 


Grey Areas and Hidden Challenges with Managing Workplace Conflict


As an HR professional, we’re willing to bet you stepped into this role with a noble mission: to help people! Your efforts directly impact employees in meaningful ways, whether it’s through helping employees cope with change and the negative emotions that might accompany it, creating streamlined career paths, or collaborating with senior leadership on engagement initiatives. 

While managing workplace conflict is a key part of helping people, it can feel next-level tricky in the moment:

  • How do you balance empathy and objectivity? 
  • What strategies can you use to stay calm under pressure and when tension is running high? 
  • How do you convince employees who resist conflict resolution due to fear, pride, or opposing viewpoints to trust you and engage constructively? 
  • And what about those moments when you can’t find the right words to say or advice to offer on the spot?

In case you need to hear it: it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed and even a bit lost at times. Managing workplace conflict can feel incredibly stressful, especially when you’re the one who’s tasked with finding resolutions. The emotions and tensions that arise during conflicts can weigh heavily on anyone, and it’s essential to acknowledge that.


Groupd conflict

Taking a Coach Approach to Managing Workplace Conflict


In addition to your formal education, training, and certifications, coaching is an invaluable skill set for HR professionals in effectively managing workplace conflict.

At its core, coaching is a partnership between coach and client (or in this case, the employees who are involved in the conflict) that encourages self-awareness and personal growth through a variety of techniques. 

With what we refer to as a “coach approach,” you can move beyond simply mediating disputes to empowering employees to identify underlying issues, take ownership of their solutions, and develop stronger interpersonal skills. This approach not only resolves the immediate conflict but also equips employees with the tools to handle future challenges—all while taking some of the pressure off of you to be the one steering the conversations and proposing the ‘right’ solutions. 

Essentially, you’re setting yourself up to make your job a whole lot easier (at least when it comes to managing conflict in the workplace) and promoting long-term organizational health and employee satisfaction.


5 Powerful Coaching Skills for Managing Workplace Conflict Like a Pro

1. Ask Empowering, Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." They encourage the other person to elaborate and provide more information. 

Taking it a step further, asking empowering open-ended questions is an art. These questions can encourage employees to explore their thoughts, feelings, and potential solutions, and often begin with phrases like "How," "What," or "In what ways." They can be powerful invitations for deeper awareness and self-discovery. 

Chat 1 Examples of empowering, open-ended questions:
    • What would success look like for you in resolving this conflict? 
    • What opportunities for growth do you see in this situation?
    • In what ways do you feel your strengths could contribute to resolving this issue?

By asking open-ended questions you can help employees navigate common workplace issues like communication problems, misunderstandings, personality clashes, and differing work styles or values.

Not to mention, they can also take the pressure off of you to have the “right” answers! Rather than feeling like you need to have an immediate answer or solution, when you ask open-ended questions, you encourage the employee to explore how they feel and come up with a solution that feels right for them (which means they’ll be more motivated to follow through with it). 

Idea How to Practice:
    • Instead of asking, "Did you talk to your coworker about the issue?" ask, "What are some potential approaches you'd like to try to address the issue with your coworker?”
    • Encourage exploration with phrases like, "What has been your experience with . . . ?" or "How do you feel about . . . ?"
    • Steer clear of questions that suggest a particular answer, e.g., “Wouldn’t you say that our company culture is very supportive?”
    • Practice this skill regularly. Make it a habit to ask open-ended questions during meetings and one-on-ones—you can even practice with family and friends outside of work!

2. Acknowledge and Validate

This skill lets employees know that their experiences and feelings are heard and valued. Acknowledging means reflecting their feelings and experiences back to them (even if you don’t necessarily agree with them) while validating assures them that their feelings are understandable and normal. This can help defuse tension and defensiveness, and make employees feel respected and understood.

Chat 1
Examples of acknowledging and validating:
    • “I can see this situation has been really stressful for you. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed.”
    • “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated because your ideas haven’t been heard in meetings. That’s a tough spot to be in.”
    • “You’re really passionate about this project, and it’s clear that you’ve put a lot of effort into it. It makes sense you’d feel upset about the recent changes.”

How to Practice:
    • During conversations, focus fully on the speaker to understand them instead of just listening to respond
    • Reflect back what the employee has said to show you’re listening, e.g., “What I’m hearing is that you feel . . . ”
    • Practice empathy by incorporating phrases like, “That makes sense,” and “It’s got to be difficult to . . . ”

3. Practice Detached Involvement

This skill is about maintaining a balance between being fully engaged and staying detached. It allows you to provide support without becoming emotionally enmeshed in the conflict. This can be a powerful tool for preventing burnout and ensuring objectivity when managing workplace conflict. 

Chat 1
Examples of detached involvement:
    • “I would appreciate a moment to gather my thoughts so I can be fully present with you. Let’s take a short break and reconvene in five minutes.”
    • “I hear that this is really tough for you. How do you feel about taking a deep breath together and seeing how we can approach this?”
    • This skill can also be practiced alone or internally, without the employee noticing. 
How to Practice:
    • When listening to an employee who is sharing something that’s emotionally charged, take deep breaths to remain grounded and present. Feel and observe any emotions that arise within you without judging them.
    • If you start to feel overwhelmed, pause and take a moment to center yourself before continuing the conversation. You can also ask an open-ended question to shift the focus back to your colleague; this way you give yourself a breather and relieve some of the pressure.
    • Incorporate mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or meditative walks, into your routine outside of work. By observing your breath and any thoughts or emotions that arise without judgment, you can learn to witness your thoughts like passing clouds. This practice creates a deep sense of inner calm and clarity, which is invaluable during difficult conversations.
    • Be mindful that your perception is filtered through your personal experiences and biases. Recognize your own triggers and take responsibility for your healing and growth to approach interactions with greater clarity and understanding.

4. Get Buy-In

This skill engages employees by showing them the personal benefits of resolving a workplace conflict or embracing a change. By helping them emotionally connect to a desirable outcome, their motivation can shift instantly. This can be achieved through honest conversations that highlight what's in it for them and asking questions that invite their input and collaboration.

This approach is particularly effective for employees who resist conflict resolution; it builds trust and encourages them to engage constructively—because there’s something in it for them!

Chat 1
Examples of getting buy-in:
    • “How do you think resolving this situation will help improve your work experience?”
    • “What aspects of this solution appeal to you the most?”
    • “How can we adjust this plan to better fit your needs and goals?”

How to Practice:
    • Regularly ask employees for their opinions and suggestions, e.g., “What do you think about . . .?”
    • Invite employees to take ownership of the solution, e.g., “How can you see yourself contributing to making this work?”
    • Help employees see how resolving the conflict can align with their personal goals and values, and benefit them in some way

5. Practice Compassion for Self and Others

While this isn’t technically a coaching skill, compassion is crucial for effectively managing workplace conflict. Compassion allows you to acknowledge the difficulties and challenges faced by everyone involved, including yourself, without judgment. By practicing self-compassion, you can prevent burnout and maintain a healthy emotional state, which in turn enables you to support others more effectively.

Chat 1
Examples of practicing compassion for self:
    • "I acknowledge the complexity of this situation and give myself permission to not have all the answers right now."
    • "I'm allowed to feel frustrated or stressed; these emotions are natural responses to challenging circumstances."
    • "I'm learning and growing through this experience, and that's a valuable part of my journey."

Chat 1
Examples of practicing compassion for others:
    • "I understand that this situation is challenging for you, and I appreciate your efforts to find a resolution."
    • "It's important to be kind to yourself during this process. Situations like this can be emotionally taxing, and it's OK to feel angry, frustrated, upset, etc.”
    • "I see that you're struggling with this situation, and I want you to know that I'm here to support you. We’re in this together."

How to Practice:
    • Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your own feelings and experiences without judgment. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing a similar situation.
    • Show empathy towards others by actively listening to their concerns and validating their feelings. Avoid judging or criticizing their experiences, and instead, offer support and understanding.
    • Remember that managing conflict in the workplace is a process, and it's OK to make mistakes or feel overwhelmed at times. Be patient with yourself and others as you navigate these challenges together.



Final Thoughts

In your role, your primary goal is to help people. And often, the best way to do that is by first helping yourself. We hope the five coaching skills outlined in this article—asking empowering questions, acknowledging and validating, utilizing detached involvement, getting buy-in, and practicing compassion—will be valuable additions to your toolkit as you navigate the complexities of managing workplace conflict.

Remember, it's OK to feel overwhelmed at times (see how we acknowledged you there? 😏) but with practice and persistence, you will become more proficient at calmly and confidently managing workplace conflict. We’re cheering you on as you practice integrating your new skills! 



Want to Go a Step Further?

Unlock 20+ Powerful Coaching Skills and Techniques to Transform How You Handle Workplace Conflict


While reading articles is a great start, nothing compares to live, interactive learning (and practicing) with peers. If you’re ready to enhance your HR skills and manage workplace conflict more effectively, we encourage you to explore Coaching Fundamentals.

This engaging 3-day training program is designed to help you master more than 20 powerful coaching tools and techniques. These skills will empower you to have difficult conversations with confidence, resolve conflicts efficiently, and create a more harmonious work environment for everyone—including you. Not to mention, studies show that HR professionals trained and certified in coaching skills see a 28% increase in salary potential.

Plus, you'll earn 27 credit hours toward HRCI recertification and 27 Professional Development Credits (PDCs) toward SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP recertification. Join us and discover how mastering coaching fundamentals can transform your approach to conflict resolution and elevate your professional capabilities!

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