A Line Manager’s Guide to Dealing with Conflict at Work

by | May 13, 2022 | Health & Wellbeing | 0 comments


40% of employees who have experienced bullying and harassment at work said their line manager was responsible.

Though we might be more prone to associating colleague-against-colleague conflict when we hear ‘workplace conflict’, in actuality, many employees are likelier to relate their issues back to their line manager.

Of employees who reported experiencing workplace conflict, one in five said they had the most serious problems with their line manager, with a third stating that their manager had made the situation worse.

It’s clear that workplace conflict is tricky to navigate…

But what can line managers do to deal with conflict at work effectively? 

What classes as workplace conflict?

It’d be hard to know when to spot conflict without really knowing what constitutes as workplace conflict, wouldn’t it?

Before Barry from IT steps in and takes a stand about ‘not being able to say anything nowadays!’, there is a range of behaviours that can be classed as conflict in the workplace.

As defined by CIPD, these include:

          Low-intensity deviant acts, such as rude verbal and non-verbal behaviours

          Any form of bullying behaviour or harassment

          Any form of discriminatory behaviour

          Poor performance

          Poor attendance and timekeeping

          Unacceptable language

          Excessive personal use of the internet or mail


          Drink or drug problems

Less obvious (think more passive-aggressive) sources include:

          Uncivil behaviour, such as not replying to an email

          Differences in personality or working style

          Taking credit for other people’s work or ideas

          Not valuing other people’s views, background, or experiences

          Talking over people in meetings

          Failing to include people in round-robin emails

          Ignoring people or being discourteous

          Poor personal hygiene

I bet we’re all sweating (no pun intended) reading that second list, aren’t we? 

Get to (properly) know your team

It might sound obvious, yet many managers will often make a critical mistake when it comes to assessing conflict in the workplace – not knowing when to nip it in the bud.

For example, you might see members of your team engaging in light banter and wonder why it turns volatile after a few minutes.

Often, the issue can lie in not being able to recognise the moments when jokes and teasing start to take a step in the wrong direction.

Make yourself an available and approachable point of contact for your team to talk to if they have any problems and get to know their working styles and triggers.

There will be certain members of your team who might be more sensitive to teasing generally or those who are sensitive to specific feedback, which is why it’s essential to keep an eye on your team to recognise when you should step in.

This brings us to our next point… 

Act quickly and act head on

This is where knowing your team comes in handy.

Whilst Employee #1 might blow their lid off immediately over someone taking credit for their work, Employee #2 might bottle up their feelings until one joke makes them lose their temper and is the last straw.

By building these relationships with your team, you can better notice the signs of tension and conflict brewing with each of them and know when to step in.

Firstly, any type of inappropriate behaviour should be challenged immediately to set a clear precedent that it is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.

Secondly, regular one-to-ones can provide clarity on how each team member is doing and where any issues are arising (particularly if there is a specific employee that is acting as a source of conflict).

The best course of action is to be proactive – if a particular employee is the source of conflict, for example, the disruptive team member should be spoken to separately for a one-to-one to understand the underlying issues and how they can be resolved.

The worst thing to do is avoid conflict, as this will generally result in further disharmony! 

Set a standard for best practice

If a line manager displays certain behaviours as standard and common, then the team will likely follow suit.

Treating each employee equally is absolutely vital in showing your team that you aren’t playing favourites and that each employee is valued and respected.

Try to avoid engaging in gossip and openly talk with the individuals engaging in gossip about the issues that are arising to avoid a culture of cliques and bullying – particularly if the gossip starts to veer into malicious territory.

If you want your team to trust you, then you need to show that you’re not going to ignore their privacy and allow them to become the subject of bullying. 

Be consistent

One of the most important elements in building trust with your team – and therefore being able to effectively manage workplace conflict – is to be consistent in your approach.

If you give certain behaviour your approval (whether knowingly or through avoidance), you’re inhibiting your own capacity to allow your team to feel safe and to trust you, and in the long term, this can build into feelings of resentment.

There should be a specific standard of behaviour that provides consistency so that regardless of who or when conflict arises, it is dealt with fairly and swiftly. 

Follow up

Once conflict has been resolved, it might be tempting to quickly move on and forget about it.

However, it’s important to follow up with your team to ensure that the conflict has been appropriately managed.

It’s not uncommon for one party to still feel slighted or aggravated about a conflict situation, which is why you need to sustain a good relationship with each person in your team and keep up with any potential lasting tension.

Regular one-to-ones have been mentioned a few times already (for good reason) because it’s the best way to keep up to date with each member of your team and how they are feeling.

Long story short – don’t assume that it’s over and keep an eye out on your team during your regular meetings. 

In conclusion

If we could summarise the main takeaways for dealing with conflict in the workplace, it’d be:

          Have regular one-to-ones with members of your team and get to know them

          Have a proactive, efficient approach to conflict

          Set a standard of best practice by treating your team equally and with respect

          Maintain consistency when dealing with conflict

          Always follow up after conflict has seemingly been resolved

It might not be easy to tackle conflict head-on… but it’ll pay off in the long run – after all, you don’t want to be included in the statistics of line managers that are responsible for workplace conflict!







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