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Ask Linda: Managing Conflict

Linda offers some suggestions to help managers resolve differences among their staff

by Lab Manager
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Dear Linda,

The laboratory staff I manage includes individuals with a wide variety of personality types, cultural backgrounds, education levels, and ages. Not surprisingly, this much variety sometimes leads to misunderstandings and, in the worst cases, conflict. Needless to say, such conflicts have a negative effect on staff morale and productivity, but I am at wits end to figure out how to deal with it. Can you please help?


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Dear Kyle,

Conflict is inevitable. The potential for conflict in laboratories is especially high because the work usually involves individuals from different backgrounds working together to complete a complex task. Your role as manager is not simply to resolve conflict but to ensure that team members feel respected and understood, and that you appreciate their differences. The first step is to have the courage to confront the conflict. After that, the following five steps may help guide your strategy:

Step 1: Identify the source of the conflict. The more information you have about the cause of the conflict, the more easily you can help to resolve it.

Step 2: Look beyond the incident. Often, it is not the situation but the perspective on the situation that causes anger to fester and ultimately leads to a shouting match or other evidence of a conflict.

Step 3: Request solutions. After getting each party’s viewpoint on the conflict, get each to identify how the situation could be changed. Again, question the parties to solicit their ideas: “How can you make things better between you?”

Step 4: Identify solutions both disputants can support. You are listening for the most acceptable course of action. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only from each other’s perspective, but in terms of the benefits to the organization.

Step 5: Agreement. You need to get the two parties to agree to one of the alternatives identified in Step 4.

For more information, see “Conflict Management” at

Good luck.