As a business owner or manager, you understand employee conflict is something that will always come up and can be normal and healthy to a certain degree. In fact, teams with members who feel comfortable disagreeing with one another are often more effective and innovative. However, conflict can become unhealthy when emotions get pulled in and judgment is clouded by personal sensitivities. Allowing conflict to linger can lead to a toxic work environment, affecting productivity, employee satisfaction, and morale. Alternatively, if employees see there are mechanisms in place to resolve conflict and properly deal with issues, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and work environment.
Managing conflict can be tricky when you don’t know the individual or micro-work environment well enough. Sometimes, as a manager, you miss the day-to-day conversations and interactions that can lead to deeper conflict. While it’s important to deal with conflict promptly, it’s equally important to understand the sources of conflict. These can include:
For a leader, the first step to a healthy work environment may seem obvious, but it is not always put into action—demonstrate the behaviors you would like to see. To develop a safe and welcoming work environment, there must be trust and respect for you as a leader. There are some key practices you can implement to mitigate conflict in a healthy and efficient manner.
Do not avoid conflict or conflict resolution. As soon as there is evidence of an employee repeatedly causing issues that impact the performance and work environment of others, it is time to address it. If you don’t act, others will.
Know, Coach, and Guide Your Employees
When you take time to know your employees, you can begin to identify behaviors that trigger problems. Set standards for behavior and attitudes and enforce them. Actively engage and coach your employees, and keep in mind what type of working ecosystem you are aiming to create and maintain.
Develop Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Don’t impose your rank, but rather spend time getting to know and understand each employee's unique differences—this is a time investment that is worthwhile. Seek to understand the emotions underlying the conflict and remember that conflict resolution often depends on the circumstances surrounding the conflict. Not all conflict can be resolved with the same strategy.
With more cultural and generational differences in the workplace, it is critical to understand the grey areas in conflict. Respecting differences will help you see unique areas for growth and development as well as the valuable contributions of each team member. Business (and life) success has much to do with emotional intelligence—refine those skills!
A leader must sometimes address uncomfortable situations or conflict. Allowing tension to fester will distort perspectives and points of view as time passes. Act when you sense tension and use it as an opportunity for improvement and relationship growth rather than letting it spiral until it disrupts the larger working ecosystem. Encourage disagreeing parties to resolve the issue promptly with guidance as needed. Self-efficiency is the eventual goal.
You may implement these broader practices, but when a clear conflict arises, what do you do? When looking to resolve a conflict, you must determine what the resolution implies and avoid taking sides. Below are some general steps you can use to come to a resolution.
Avoiding disruption to create the illusion of harmony can create pockets of internal dissatisfaction and an environment of distrust. Distrust often leads to assumptions and a breakdown of communication. Take the time to know your employees and foster a culture that prioritizes respect, diversity, and relationships to avoid unhealthy conflict as much as possible.