Conflict can and does happen in every workplace. Work should be enjoyable for everyone, and this means nipping conflict in the bud as soon as possible once it begins, or better still, preventing it altogether.
Whether it’s a large multi-layered business or a small salon or spa, if there are people involved, conflicts are sure to arise at some point.
Strong relationships, together with a harmonious environment, are crucial elements for a successful, happy and productive team.
An important part of any manager’s job is to develop a safe and supportive environment where your team members can work together constructively. Your goal should be to always increase a sense of well-being and mutual respect within your team.
It’s easy to hope that if left alone “things will get better” without intervention and that as adults they can ‘sort it out for themselves’, but the reality is that this doesn’t happen.
In fact, ignoring conflict can result in minor disagreements or misunderstandings turning into full-blown wars and unwanted behaviour that can damage your business.
As a manager you can create and support a culture of a healthy response to workplace conflict by the following actions:
1. Set a great example.
If you wish to have a conflict-free work environment, then you must ensure that you eliminate the likelihood of falling into conflict with a member of your team.
If you see the beginnings of discontent brewing, act immediately to prevent things from escalating.
Use your communication skills and positive actions to set a good example for others in the workplace, so that you set the standards by which team members are expected to treat one another.
Finally, never make assumptions about what is causing the problem until you have all the facts at hand.
2. Establish firm guidelines and expectations.
It’s essential to provide clear guidelines to team members about how conflict is to be managed in the workplace.
Your employees will have a greater commitment to healthy conflict management if you set time for group discussion on the need for conflict guidelines and the positive benefits of well-managed conflict.
3. Communicate effectively and often.
Great communication is one of the most important ingredients needed to lead and develop a team.
Team members must feel that you are listening fully and intently to them when they are telling you about a problem they are experiencing.
Your ability to listen actively and question wisely shows them that they are being fully heard and that you are making every effort to understand the issues and concerns raised by them (even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view). This can, and often will lead to better understanding, changed outlooks and the ability to find solutions to problems.
4. Develop great people management skills.
As well as great communication skills you also need to develop people management skills.
Skills such as employee motivation, the ability to provide constructive feedback and feed-forward (these are the alternative actions that could have been taken), individual coaching, and setting clear expectations around roles and responsibilities.
These all play a major role in preventing unhealthy conflict.
5. Identify and meet your employee’s needs.
Understanding your employee’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is essential.
One of the best ways to avoid conflict is to identify and meet your employee’s needs.
When needs are not being met, conflict can be just around the corner.
In private performance feedback sessions, try to identify those needs and take actions to meet them.
6. Conduct a team health assessment.
Check with your employees on a regular basis to find out how they are feeling about their job, their co-workers and their career in general.
Unhappy employees can cause conflict in the workplace, so the sooner you know that you have an unhappy person on your team, the quicker you can do something to rectify the problem before it gets out of hand.
Steps to take when the conflict involves you.
When the conflict involves you personally, it can be quite a confronting experience, and most people’s natural reaction is to assert their authority as manager.
However, this isn’t the best way to handle things.
Like any conflict, the sooner it’s addressed and a solution found, the better for all concerned.
Consider the following actions:
• Take ownership and responsibility for your part in the conflict.
• Make a conscious decision to keep your emotions in check.
• State clearly what you believe the problem is and how you feel about it.
• Be firm when expressing your point of view.
• Listen to the other person’s position without interrupting.
• Look for solutions that are mutually beneficial.
• After a solution is found, check in with the other person from time to time to see if things are still ok.
Steps you need to take when there is a conflict arising from poor employee performance.
• Explain the problem clearly and the impact it is having on the business, yourself and other employees.
• Listen carefully and without interruption when the other person is speaking.
• Always acknowledge the other person’s feelings and thoughts on the matter.
• Be genuine about trying to understand the issue from their perspective.
• Ask them to put forward solutions to the problem at hand.
• Continue to discuss options until you find a mutually desirable outcome.
• Don’t let things become personal.
• Don’t become angry or confrontational.
• Remain solutions focused.
• If things get heated, take a break and agree to meet again when things settle down. Reschedule a new time immediately.
Conflict isn’t always a bad thing, even though you may not enjoy it at the time.
If handled well it can strengthen your team, and eliminate brooding issues that are affecting performance.
The key actions are to address the issues quickly, don’t let things become emotionally charged, stay focussed on finding a solution and maintain mutual respect at all time.
If you do these things, the conflict will be minimised, and a happier more productive team will be the result.
The ability to recognise and acknowledge emotions in others is crucial to effectively manage conflict situations.