Side-stepping conflict in the workplace is like playing that operation game, trying to not touch the sides when you’re attempting to extract the funny bone. It’s rigged to buzz. In fact, avoiding conflict, sweeping it under the rug, will simply help it fester and grow into something much more destructive than had you dealt with it head on.
An essential role of leadership is dealing with conflict. Working with people is complicated. People are complicated. That said great leaders: recognize, understand the nature, and bring swift and just resolutions to conflict. (Mike Myatt, 5 Keys of Dealing With Workplace Conflict, Forbes, Feb. 22, 2012, www.forbes.com).
Here are 8 tips to meet conflict head-on in your organization.
Recognize and Understand the Nature of Conflict:
1. Pay attention: Workplaces vibrate with energy. Even in high-stress environments, there’s a kind of buzz going that can be positive or negative. When morale is down, don’t wait. Step up and start asking questions, digging deeper. Leaders need to be connected with their teams.
2. Listen: Stop. Listen to all parties, individually. Listen to understand, not to respond, formulate an argument and be right. There’s a critical difference between understanding and responding. This will help you understand the conflict and nature of the conflict.
3. Take out the Emotion: As a leader, it’s easy to confuse emotion with motivation. Emotions cannot drive decisions. A leader needs to be impartial and keep a cool head.
Bring Swift and Just Resolutions:
4. Gather involved parties: Again, give each party time to voice their concerns. This will also help leaders get a better hold on the problem. Moreover, the act of discussing conflict in the workplace in a civilized and healthy way will show employees that their concerns matter.
5. Set parameters: How can a leader keep things on track and not have a meeting like this get derailed by the squeakiest wheel? Define acceptable behavior. Create a framework for discussing conflict.
a. Discuss the problem, not the person.
b. Focus on the future
c. Don’t finger-point
d. State your case tactfully
Certainly, it’s tough to keep people’s emotions in check, but as a leader it’s important to keep everyone on task. Through this process, you’re working to help them find common ground. asking the parties to express what they want and why. To get to this, you might need to sift through some emotion and anger. Then, as the negotiator, you can ask open-ended questions to get to the real problem: What about that bothered you so much? What about that was so important to you? Couch these questions with reasons for which you’re asking them!
6. Individual Motivation: Conflict often arises when an employee feels her path is being blocked. A leader helps her team achieve success and navigate obstacles. Prior to any resolution process, it’s critical to understand the motivation of each team member.
7. Don’t Put Off the Inevitable: An innocuous cut can turn into a festering sore. Recognize conflict and meet it head on. Certainly not every workplace conflict merits a long meeting, resolution process. However, when conflict arises, it needs to be addressed. Go back to step 2 before making decisions. Listen before you act.
8. Be Creative and Confident: That’s why you’re in a management position. Things can be worked out, worked around, and your leadership is critical to move past conflict and get parties working to the organization’s goals.
Unless you work in a bubble, you will have to deal with conflict as a leader. Strengthening your conflict-resolution skills will be key to great leadership in your organization. These moments are opportunities for your team to strengthen and grow. Your team is counting on you to help them resolve problems and keep organizational morale up.