Any effective manager knows the importance of giving employees autonomy. Yet you can’t be entirely hands-off. Team conflict at work may be getting in the way of productivity and business prosperity. You may need to step in and provide assistance with conflict resolution.
Of course, these issues have to be handled delicately, as people don’t want to be micro-managed. They want to feel empowered and independent. Sometimes, though, workplace conflict spills over and has a negative impact on the team. No one wants to sit through a meeting with people griping at each other. Or, perhaps things aren’t getting done because colleagues refuse to communicate professionally with one another. If the disagreements lead people to resign, that turnover can have an overburdening effect on remaining employees.
When the conflict is ongoing, it may be time for leaders to take action. Try these conflict management strategies to deliberately assess the situation and find ways to address team conflict at work.
Define the issue
Conflict resolution begins with a clear understanding of the source of the issue. You may have the best of intentions, but leaping in blindly to resolve a workplace conflict is likely to backfire. Start out by gathering information. Ask questions and listen actively to understand the different perspectives clashing. Even if one employee comes to you to complain, you’ll want to get input from the other before weighing in.
There are many potential root causes for conflict at work, including:
- Generational difference
- Intellectual background
- Power struggle
- Resistance to change
There are pros and cons to meeting first with each individual one-on-one, versus bringing all parties together in one room to share their concerns. However, research does show that initial separate meetings with individual parties should be focused on gaining an understanding of the problem and showing empathy.
Note, empathy is different from sympathy. Instead of sympathizing by saying, “I am sorry you had to deal with that,” you might empathize by saying, “That must have been hard for you to hear.”
Empathy can be an amazing tool when managing team conflict at work.
Pick a safe, private venue
If you want to encourage constructive discussion between conflicting parties, you’ll want to find a neutral place to talk. Avoid inviting people to hash out their differences in front of an audience of their colleagues. This can make issues escalate quickly.
Also, don’t hold a meeting in either person’s office. Instead, you might go to a conference room. Even move to another floor, away from the rest of the team, to avoid the participants of the meeting feeling as if they’re in a fishbowl.
Throughout your conflict management efforts, always remain careful to avoid the perception of favoritism. Try not to put more weight on one perspective over another. Also, work to ensure each team member feels equally heard.
Establish a common goal
Give all parties a chance to say their piece and ask questions to ensure you understand where they are coming from. Then, also work to get everyone involved to agree to a common goal. That can give your discussion focus. Plus, it can help keep the conversation on track. If someone veers into a personal attack, for example, you might say, “I hear your frustration, but our goal here is to resolve this issue to avoid future conflict.”
Finding commonalities has long been a good strategy to managing team conflict at work—or conflict in general! It’s much harder for most people to continue to fight against someone they understand more on a mutual level.
Avoid offering the solution
You may be the manager, but that doesn’t make you the boss of this conflict. Conflict resolution is more effective if the affected parties are the ones who determine the best solution. You can mediate and guide, but your goal is to navigate the parties to identify solutions they can live with and enact in both the short and long term.
If you step in and say “This is how we’re going to fix this thing,” don’t expect your answer to the problem to gain much traction. Think of it this way: If a schoolteacher dictates the resolution, students don’t learn anything about resolving conflict on their own. Instead, they’ll just run to teacher the next time there is a dispute that needs resolution.
That’s not to say you’ll never leverage your authority. If the conflict is endangering people or putting company policy or business outcomes at risk, you may need to step out of the mediator role. But do so only after employee-driven conflict resolution fails.
Discuss preventative measures
Reaching consensus around a solution is great. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to stick. Invite everyone involved to brainstorm preventative strategies that can help avoid this or similar issues happening again.
As a manager, you can wrap up the discussions reminding all parties that you remain available to touch base on this and other issues. Also plan to check back in. Set a reminder for yourself to ask the participants in the conflict to evaluate how things are going. You can also seek out opportunities to point out progress and congratulate the individuals’ involved on their success in steering clear of further conflict.
Document the incident
When dealing with workplace conflict, managers need to reference the employee handbook and determine if there are particular policies that apply or disciplinary steps to take. It’s also important to record the facts from any conversations or meetings related to the conflict. This can provide insight for future managers dealing with similar concerns. Plus, it can be a safety measure in case an employee decides to take legal action.
Conflict resolution and human resource management
You probably didn’t take your particular job anticipating the opportunity to resolve conflict. However, navigating employee disagreements is a big part of the job. Managers can spend a quarter of their time resolving conflict, according to the American Management Association.
There are four general types of conflict to consider in your workplace:
- Relationship – the most common type where emotions are involved
- Status – based on roles, typically manager/supervisor to subordinate
- Process – occurs when there is an issue with how or why something is being done, like frustration with a workflow bottleneck
- Tasks – often confused with process conflicts, this one is really about disagreeing on what needs to be done
Understanding the types of conflict is important with managing team conflict at work and gaining greater initiative when facing conflict.
Workplace strife is generally seen as a negative. So, it helps to know how to manage team conflict at work. We’ve also written an article suggesting strategies for the individual experiencing miscommunication issues with others in their work environment. But did you know that not all conflict at work is a bad thing? We’ll complete this series with an article exploring advantages of workplace conflict.
Need help understanding how your employees feel about work? Whether it’s a conflict-free zone or not, Sogolytics’ secure feedback and experience management platform can give you the insights you need.