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Tips to Handle Employee Conflict

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.
March 2, 2020 | Business
By: Dana B
Dana came to Acuity in 2016 as a workers' compensation adjuster, where she focused on handling minor to catastrophic claims in multiple jurisdictions. She also has a background in the services industry, with experience in project management and cosmetology. She graduated with a degree in community engagement and education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and serves on the Board of Directors of Mental Health America in Sheboygan County. Outside of work and volunteering, Dana loves spending time with her daughters, cooking, and practicing yoga.

Author of Services & Retail Focus

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:

 

  • Unmet needs
  • Inequities in resources
  • Unclear roles or responsibilities
  • Unofficial supervisory roles without actual authority to direct or make decisions
  • Poor management during times of transition
  • Poor communication or breakdown of communication between teams and departments
  • Personal differences

 

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.

 

Effective Timing

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!

 

Confront Tension

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.

 

  • Make clear and consistent policies with transparent rationale
  • Define a specified outcome
  • Ask the participants in the conflict to describe what they feel the conflict is, why it came to be, and what they would like to change
  • Challenge them to use “I” statements rather than more accusatory “you” statements
  • Focus on specific behaviors rather than people, which can help separate what obstacles can be controlled and what cannot (personal beliefs and perspectives of others cannot be controlled, but objective obstacles can be focused on for improvement)
  • Ask participants to restate what others have said
  • Summarize conflict based on what you’ve been told and ask for agreement between parties on that summary
  • Brainstorm solutions, rule out unreasonable options, and summarize all potential solutions
  • Make sure all parties agree before moving forward
  • Close out meeting in a positive manner
  • Follow up to see if any similar problems have surfaced

 

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.

 

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By: Dana B
Dana came to Acuity in 2016 as a workers' compensation adjuster, where she focused on handling minor to catastrophic claims in multiple jurisdictions. She also has a background in the services industry, with experience in project management and cosmetology. She graduated with a degree in community engagement and education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and serves on the Board of Directors of Mental Health America in Sheboygan County. Outside of work and volunteering, Dana loves spending time with her daughters, cooking, and practicing yoga.

Author of Services & Retail Focus