by Jennifer Tobkin
by Jennifer Tobkin
In some industries, you must improvise solutions. Restaurant servers know the shortest distance between any table and the to-go cups, for example. Dog groomers know how to adjust their strategy depending not only on the personality of each dog but also on the length of its fur. Dealing with conflict at work, among your own work team, is a much bigger challenge, however. As soon as you think you have found a solution to one problem, another pops up to take its place. You can get better at managing conflict in your workplace simply by practicing, but it is easier to develop this skill by participating in conflict management training workshops and similar programs. For quick resolution of urgent matters, you can even participate in workplace conflict resolution mediation.
How to Tell If Conflict Is Harming Your Organization’s Productivity
Every workplace has its share of conflict. Even if you strictly abide by a policy that the customer is always right, customers will sometimes complain, and responding graciously to their complaints is not always easy. When coworkers must collaborate on a project, some amount of conflict is inevitable, even if the coworkers are able to resolve their conflict peacefully. Dealing with conflict at work takes up time and intellectual resources. Therefore, if you can avoid preventable conflict and focus on the conflicts that naturally arise in the course of your work, your organization will be more productive.
An Ounce of Conflict Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Conflict Resolution
The best strategy for dealing with conflict at work is to anticipate which conflicts can arise in which situations and make a plan for addressing them. In other words, conflict management is about being proactive instead of reactive. Managers who enroll in conflict management coaching or group workshops will learn about ways to predict and sidestep conflicts in a variety of common workplace situations.
Do You Need Outside Help Dealing With Conflict at Work?
The best managers adopt a high-responsibility, low-control approach to management. Even if you do this, however, the personalities of some of your coworkers may be such that they easily become embroiled in ongoing conflicts with each other. Dealing with conflict at work of this nature could require outside intervention. Planning ahead and being diplomatic is not enough to resolve conflicts in which coworkers have become enemies. Failing to deal with the conflict between two employees can lead to added stress and a heavier workload for the entire team. In situations like these, mediation with a professional workplace conflict resolution mediator may be the best solution.
Dealing With Conflict-Prone Individuals
Some people seem to enjoy creating conflict, and being a manager of a team that includes such people is an unenviable task. According to Harvard Business Review, “conflict entrepreneurs” tend to gravitate toward certain professions. Academia, healthcare, politic, and the nonprofit sector seem to be magnets for people who love to stir up conflicts. No matter your line of work, contrarian team members make life difficult for everyone on the team.
Sometimes the best way to deal with conflict entrepreneurs is just to work around them. Politely acknowledge their objections, but then just move forward with your plans. If the conflict entrepreneurs personally antagonize other members of the team, it might be time to get human resources involved.
Agreeing on Which Problems to Solve
Part of being a professional is agreeing to disagree. Trying to make everyone agree with your perspective is a waste of time. If you try to change your coworkers’ minds about matters unrelated to work, you run the risk of crossing personal boundaries.
Managers must tread carefully when attempting to resolve interpersonal conflicts between employees. The best strategy is to meet individually with each person involved in the conflict. Listen to everything each person has to say about the conflict and the people involved in it. Then decide which problems you can and must solve in the short term, and have another round of individual meetings. In the second round of meetings, focus only on the problem you have decided to solve. Focus on problems, not on people.
Face-to-Face Mediation Is a Last Resort
Some people love confrontation; these tend to be conflict entrepreneurs. Most people dealing with conflict at work, however, are just trying to solve problems that have arisen in the course of their work. They are not spoiling for a fight.
Bringing the parties to a conflict together into a room and asking them to talk it out will probably make things worse. Most people feel attacked in this situation and behave defensively rather than listening with an open mind. Even people who participated in debate in high school don’t want to feel like their boss and coworkers are ganging up on them. Crafting elegant arguments as a public speaking exercise is one thing, but being asked to fight when your professional reputation is at stake is another.
If Not Talking Things Out Face to Face, Then What?
Bringing everyone together in one room might sound like the fastest solution, but it is counterproductive. It is better for managers to find out each person’s perspective individually. You can find out a lot about the conflict by meeting individually with all the members of your team, even the ones who are not directly involved in the conflict. It is time-consuming, but it gives you time to think about the best way to solve the problem. You might even arrive at a solution other than what the team members have proposed. When you call a meeting, it is to announce your proposed solution and not to side with or against any of the team members.
Listen Even When You Think You Are Not Going to Find Out Anything New
It is much easier to talk than it is to listen, especially when dealing with conflict at work. Listening is an important part of your job as a manager, however. When holding individual meetings with members of your team, your role is to listen. The purpose of these meetings is not for you to contradict people or make suggestions, and you certainly should not scold them.
The purpose of one-on-one meetings with colleagues during the conflict resolution process is to show your team members that you understand their perspectives. During each meeting, focus on the colleague who is in your office. Don’t talk about what other team members said during your individual meetings with them. Whatever you do, do not interrupt the person who is speaking during an individual meeting. For that matter, you should avoid interrupting people during group meetings, too. It is only appropriate when someone is dominating the conversation.
Navigating the Maze of Overlapping Conflicts
Talking individually with your team members about a conflict will yield many insights into that conflict. It may also alert you to the presence of other conflicts of which you were unaware. In attempting to deal prudently with conflict in your organization, you may get the impression that your workplace is a minefield of conflict.
Take notes on all of your conversations. After the meetings, organize your notes in various documents. One document should be dedicated to the present conflict that you are currently trying to solve. You should make an additional document for each other conflict that your team members mention during the one-on-one meetings. After that, you can monitor the secondary conflicts. In doing this, you will find out which ones will probably resolve themselves on their own and which ones require your intervention.
When Is Workplace Conflict Too Much for One Person to Handle?
By keeping an eye on conflicts before they get out of control, you can help your team operate efficiently. Of course, helping your team operate efficiently also involves many of your other work tasks. You are not a full-time conflict mediator. There is more to your job than identifying points of agreement and disagreement among your team members.
If you find your job description morphing from manager to conflict manager, you have some options. It might be worthwhile to engage your team in conflict management training. You can bring in conflict management coaches for one session or multiple sessions. By addressing conflict management at its root, you can teach your team members to take on some of the time-consuming conflict management work that you have been doing. If a conflict management training course for your whole team is beyond your budget, you can hire a conflict resolution coach for yourself. Conflict management coaching is available in person and online. You might also enlist the help of a professional mediator if resolving one particular conflict will prevent future conflicts.
The First Step Toward Successful Workplace Conflict Resolution
Recognizing that you are dealing with more than a garden variety of interpersonal conflicts and everyday annoyances in your workplace is the first step. The next step is to seek outside help on workplace conflict resolution. PeaceComm offers individual and group trainings on conflict resolution and conflict management for managers and entire workplaces. Contact us today to find out which of our workplace conflict resolution interventions will work best for your organization.
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