Conflicts are inevitable, among teams and individuals working together for considerable periods of time. It is the responsibility of the manager to handle disputes and minimize their impact on the company. Ignoring problems won’t make them go away. In fact, the issues will likely linger and worsen over time. Leaders and teams must courageously and directly face them head-on, and work toward resolution. These are ten strategies that leaders can use to help their employees work through difficulties and create a low-conflict atmosphere at work.
No one is advocating for a sterile, unproductive, and stale environment. The goal is to foster an environment that supports a lively exchange of ideas, and healthy discussion and challenges, where the best ideas rise to the surface. At the same time, unhealthy and hostile work-place behavior must be addressed and curtailed quickly, from a productivity, liability and employee-health standpoint.
Fairness and Objectivity
No manager wants the perception of showing bias and favoritism. A leader’s role is not to side with one person or another, but rather to manage them harmoniously, using their distinct strengths to achieve corporate objectives. Look at the situation objectively and try and understand disparate and conflicting viewpoints. When taking employee narratives into account, separately and together, managers can gain better understanding of their unique perspectives. It also gives them insight into how to come up with acceptable win-win resolutions.
Keep an Open Mind
Trying to remain objective when facing individuals or groups in heated conflict can be challenging. To avoid any perceived or real bias, managers must only focus on the facts. It’s important to listen carefully to both sides to get a better understanding of each position. Managers must be emotionally disconnected from both the conflict and the resolution process to accomplish this.
The Root of the Problem
It’s difficult to solve a problem without knowing the background. Obviously, rumors, office chatter, and gossip must be summarily discounted. Assess the situation with an objective, analytical mind and look for clues. Find out the cause of the rift between employees. It could be that individuals are feeling stressed, looming deadlines, a challenging client, or a less-than-optimal workplace environment. Perhaps it’s as simple as clashing work styles or personality types.
Supervisors, HR officers, and managers may be too busy to deal with every conflict that arises between employees. Besides, jumping in to resolve every minor issue could send a wrong message – that management doesn’t trust the professionalism of their own highly-skilled technology workforce. A better approach is to encourage employees to resolve their own differences. Remain aware of the issue and provide guidance, talking points, and suggestions, when necessary. The best leaders will also follow up with the employees and learn how they resolved the issue. The company can then apply those lessons to future situations.
Finally, for serious HR situations, or work-place violations, the manager/HR reps, must step-in immediately.
Focus on Solutions
Rarely is there no solution to a problem. After listening to each side of the story, ask the employees what they see as the best solution. While the same answer won’t come from both sides, active listening will offer a general idea of how the problem can be solved. Look for common themes and points of agreement and encourage the workers to do the same.
Remind the team that the goal is to have a healthy work-place environment where discourse, lively debates, and ideation are encouraged.
Refer to the Employee Handbook/H.R. Policies
There are specific rules that every employee must follow, and they’re usually written up in an employee handbook, or policies. Generally, it’s something people may read during the onboarding process and then it gets set aside. Remind employees that their behaviors, attitudes, and actions should align with the organization’s expectations, core values, and guiding principles. Furthermore, the company may have a set of conflict resolution procedures in place that everyone is required to follow.
Develop Effective Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are crucial, especially in complex environments, and conflict situations. One of the responsibilities of a manager is to help their employees develop and manifest these skills. Consider incorporating training sessions for everyone in the workplace, and on-going training for anyone whose communication skills may need development.
Consider Organizational Changes
Conflicts in the workplace and widespread issues are usually a trailing indicator of poor team, managerial or organizational health. Disruptive behavior and negative behavior, if unchecked, can have a dramatic effect on morale and production. After a thorough and impartial analysis, the root cause could be managers, supervisors, employees, teams or corporate culture. Organizational Changes can be used to address underlying issues, where applicable.
Lead by Example
Integrity and Values start at the top. If a company wants a respectful, healthy, lively and productive work-place, then the leaders must exhibit those traits. The best leaders have integrity, exhibit behaviors that align with the core-vision and values of the organization and are committed to their employees.
About Suren Rodrigues: Suren Rodrigues is a cross-functional leader, who directs and implements large-scale, high-value, software and telecommunication systems. He uses creative problem solving to implement projects, initiatives and systems that are efficient, have a high return on investment and are tailored to the client’s needs. When Dr. Rodrigues isn’t managing his projects and team, he can be found spending time with his kids and enjoying nature.