Even in the most harmonious of offices, dealing with conflict often plays a part in the day-to-day working environment. With a variety of personalities which can sometimes clash, tempers may flare – impacting negatively on productivity. The mark of a good manager, however, is being able to resolve these incidents and keep morale high in the process.
That said, because of its potentially high cost, some employees and managers tend to avoid or mishandle conflict because they don’t want to deal with its consequences, or they simply aren’t trained to do so. Avoiding attempts to handle problems in the office can result in a negative environment, re-enforcing office politics and fuelling biases. The right processes should be in place to help managers address things in an appropriate manner.
As we outline below, there’s more to it than simply getting HR involved. While they can train managers on effective conflict-resolution strategies, it’s not always up to them to resolve issues in the workplace. To help you control any difficult situations you may have to deal with, here we provide a collection of methods you can use to deal with office conflicts.
A big part of managing conflict is knowing when to act. Say, for example, an employee’s behaviour is negatively impacting the performance of those around them. If you attempt to step in too early, you might be lacking any evidence or proof of any wrongdoing.
On the other hand, try to avoid leaving it too late. If everyone else is aware that it must be dealt with and you still aren’t doing anything about it, then you risk losing authority and credibility among those you lead.
No matter how big your team is, the mixing pot of people means there’ll be all manner of personalities in the workforce. Skilled managers will identify and respect the differences in their team and take differing viewpoints into account when resolving problems staff may be having. As the company becomes more and more diverse in terms of both generation and culture, finding resolutions for every type of conflict could become more difficult.
Adopting a respectful approach is a good way of understanding the conflict. As a leader, recognise that each employee represents a singular, unique opportunity to grow and develop. Rather than being comfortable dealing with those you naturally gravitate towards and trust, moving out of your comfort zone is a big step in dealing with conflict and furthering your own skills as a manager. If you aren’t comfortable with certain employees, you only serve to widen the gap between you and them, undervaluing their skills as a result.
Following on from the previous point, an essential quality that managers must have is their sense of self-awareness. In order to identify the problem properly, you must set aside preconceived ideas and biases, which impacts how you react, both physically and emotionally, in these situations.
Don’t prepare what you want to say in response to something in advance, but rather, listen to what the relevant parties have to say, and directly respond. While agreeing with the employee isn’t necessary, your response should be based on putting yourself in their shoes and appreciating the fact that their discontent has a different perspective to yours.
Improve your listening skills by removing distractions such as checking your email or looking at your phone. Poor body language also gives off a bad impression and implies resistance to what your employee might want to state. Unfold those arms, and don’t be tempted to look at the clock; people don’t want to feel like they may be wasting your time. Ask questions often to make sure you’re on the same page as each other.
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That said, it’s not enough to merely give the impression that you’re understanding employees. Being an empathetic person allows your team to feel that they’re being emotionally supported and can help recognise the link between others’ emotions and how they behave. Take an interest in your employees’ lives outside of work, by showing them that you care they will respond to your efforts by developing trust in you.
Moving towards involving HR should be your last option as a manager, and you should look at different avenues of conflict resolution before escalating the situation to them. If you’ve attempted to speak to those involved, or scoured the employee code of conduct and still haven’t reached a resolution, then this should be when you seek the advice and involvement of HR.
Take time to consider if this is a one-time-only occurrence or the latest in a line of ongoing situations. If it’s the latter, then HR can help you create things such as performance improvement plans, as well as timelines over which you should expect behavioural change. However, if there’s been an obvious violation of conduct, then HR should be involved immediately.
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