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The Five C’s of Conflict Management

The Five C’s of Conflict Management

These days, conflict management in a law firm is critically important. Law firms can be a pressure cooker of emotions when you combine Type A personalities, impending deadlines, and bet-the-company decisions. Then, add a rigid hierarchy of partners, associates, and support staff who range in age across Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Gen Z. It should come as no surprise that interpersonal conflicts at law firms are unavoidable.

Is there an inclination for law firm management to look the other way and hope the parties resolve their issues without intervention? After all, the workplace team is comprised of high-quality professionals, right? Unfortunately, conflicts rarely solve themselves. Projects can get delayed or derailed when resentful staff members refuse to cooperate. Hidden feuds, hurt feelings, passive aggression, and disputes may continue to fester. Other employees may get pulled into the drama, and workplace morale suffers as time and energy is spent on gossip and other destructive, non-billable behaviors. So, what are the best conflict resolution techniques that firm managers or legal HR professionals can implement when disputes arise between employees at a law firm?


Poor communication or miscommunication is at the root of most conflicts. These days, it’s different from what was said but how the message was delivered. Employees have a dizzying array of communication mediums between phone calls, emails, text messages, video meetings, Slack channels, or intranet forums. A partner’s concise and detailed email could be construed as micromanaging, and an associate’s one-word text message could be seen as flippant. Technological communication platforms will continue to evolve, but addressing conflicts should be done in person whenever possible.

Through one-on-one conversations, find out as much as possible about the conflict. Was it a simple misunderstanding or something more complex? Both parties should have the chance to share their side. This will give you a better understanding of the situation and show your impartiality. Meeting in person is more direct and powerful than any digital communication. The parties may be more willing to work on a resolution if they have to meet face-to-face. Open and constructive communication can turn a potential crisis into a productive discussion.

Cooling Off and Calming Down

Encourage the parties to use neutral language and address the problem instead of the person. “I” language rather than “you” language can help each person from feeling attacked. Observe their body language and tone. If you remain calm and use open body language, it may elicit a calmer, more open demeanor from others in the room.


After hearing each party’s viewpoint, the next step is to have the individuals identify how to resolve the conflict to everyone’s satisfaction – including firm management. This collaborative approach may take longer than issuing a directive, but it will produce long-term benefits. Each person should present a solution to the issue while the other listens without interrupting. The manager’s role is to objectively identify each solution’s pros and cons and keep the conversation from becoming too heated or going off the rails.

Coaching and Counseling

Conflict management workshops can be developed internally or implemented by a third-party association or consulting firm. Select one specializing in law firms if you decide to use an outside service. They should provide training that gives employees the skills and tools to manage common law firm conflicts. Having your staff complete assessments that evaluate their resolution styles may also be helpful. Once they understand how they approach disagreements, they can learn to negotiate better with their peers.

Corporate Culture

Creating a culture of trust is crucial for law firm management and HR. Employees will lose trust if conflicts or issues are ignored or disappear. Some ways to build a corporate culture that minimizes harmful conflict include:
● Communicating what is considered unacceptable behavior or treatment
● Dealing promptly, fairly, and consistently with conflicts
● Asking for input from employees through surveys or conversations
● Modeling the behavior you expect from the staff

Conflict is a normal and healthy part of professional life. Some experts even believe it can contribute to an organization’s success. The most effective and agile teams are those in which people feel secure enough to disagree and voice opposing views. The challenge for law firm managers and HR professionals is encouraging healthy conflicts and reducing detrimental ones.

Collier Legal Search provides legal staffing services for law firms seeking to build a strong team of legal talent, from support staff to partners. You can rely on us to find experienced and skilled professionals that fit your firm’s corporate culture.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you build your team.

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