How many times have you asked yourself, “Can I put my employees in time out?” My guess is plenty. Conflict in the workplace can be quite stressful. However, it’s a fact of life so figure out how to deal with it.
Whenever groups of people are pulled together there is bound to be conflict. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since life would be boring if everyone went along with everything you said. Besides, conflict can bring about positive change. Differences of opinion encourage creativity, change and progress.
However, all too often conflict in the workplace leads to dysfunction. So much so that even business owners have told me that if things don’t get better, they will leave the companies they’ve started! Your workplace doesn’t have to turn into a marriage gone bad, however, if you take the time to address situations when they surface. It’s when conflict is ignored that we end up with problems that make us want to stomp our feet and cover our ears.
Sources of conflict
When situations spiral out of control, they can be difficult to address. Familiarizing yourself with the following common sources of conflict will help you diffuse situations before they occur:
- Lack of clarity. Employees wind up in turf wars when boundaries aren’t clearly defined. A conversation with a co-worker that clearly defines who will be doing what can help prevent this situation.
- Poor communication. Poor communication leads to misunderstanding and discord among employees. For example, disputes can occur if a manager asks one employee to relay important instructions to the other employees, but the employee fails to provide all the information. Lack of information can lead to projects being mismanaged and to employees blaming each other for the failed result.
- Power struggles. The need to control is at the root of many workplace conflicts. Who should have that information? Who should be involved on that project? Who has the corner office? Recognize that power struggles exist. Learn how to manage relationships in the organization to minimize conflict.
Tips for dealing with workplace conflict
A strong leader gives employees the tools needed to resolve conflict situations on their own, rather than continuously playing the role of referee. Here are some suggestions to help you transition from referee to coach:
Deal with the conflict. Hoping and praying the conflict will resolve on its own is never a good idea. It usually gets worse, while you lose credibility. Handle the situation before small matters turn into an explosion that cannot be contained.
Be a mediator, not a judge. While it’s preferable to allow people to resolve their own disputes, if that doesn’t happen or if the conflict is affecting their performance or the business itself, then you must intercede. Set aside time to meet privately with each person involved in the conflict.
To gain insight into the situation, ask each of them to describe:
- What’s been said and done
- The ideal outcome they’d like to see occur
- How they would suggest the situation be handled
The next step is to bring the participants together to discuss the situation. Summarize their respective positions and work towards helping them meet in the middle. Point out where the parties have seen things the same way and work towards building conceptual agreement.
Since disagreement is inevitable, it makes good business sense to train employees and managers on how to recognize and effectively deal with conflict in the workplace. Your investment will reap immediate dividends. Employees will spend less time battling one another and more time on business growth. And you can rest at night knowing that peace has returned to your organization.
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