The diversity of opinions and viewpoints in the modern workplace can be a wonderful thing. Occasionally though, it can also lead to disagreements. Without proper conflict management mechanisms, disagreements can devolve into full-fledged conflicts that could hamper the day-to-day operations of organisations. Even under normal circumstances, conflict management is an important skill for managers and leaders to cultivate, as it helps them get the best out of their people and create a positive, empathy-based culture where one can respectfully disagree with a colleague, or apologise to someone without any shame or stigma.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Be proactive in handling conflict
It doesn’t take long for unhealthy conflicts to spiral out of control, and therefore, they must ideally be nipped in the bud. But you can only do that when you’re aware that there’s a problem in the first place. So, speak to your team and tell them that serious (i.e., confrontational or toxic) disagreements should be immediately brought to your notice. This doesn’t mean that they should come running to you for minor issues; they need to know that you are always available to sort out any disagreement that they are unable to manage by themselves.
Listen to both sides
Be open and receptive to what all the concerned parties involved have to say. Give everyone an equal opportunity to voice their concerns and views. Make them feel safe, talk to them in private, and ensure you have all the information you need. Stay calm, positive, and assertive, and don’t judge individuals or share any personal views. Listen to both sides of the story and compare notes to determine whether there has been a communication gap – which is often at the core of many workplace conflicts.
Address the root cause
Try to ascertain whether there is an underlying issue that needs to be rectified so that similar disputes don’t occur in the future. For instance, confusion regarding policies and procedures, or bad hiring choices could lead to similar conflicts cropping up repeatedly in the workplace. Once you have identified the root cause, assess whether you need to have a third-party intervention or put a structured training program in place to avoid such issues.
Discuss it with the people concerned
After speaking with your team members in private, bring them together, discuss the circumstances, and ask for inputs that can lead to an effective solution. Drive an open and honest discussion – not a debate. Set some guidelines so that the discussion doesn’t go off track. Listen to all the inputs and perspectives before concluding. Share learnings and constructive criticism from the events that have transpired, so that similar disputes don’t repeat themselves.
Despite their disagreements, people have to learn to work together for the organisation to function. Explain to your team that conflict hampers productivity and your collective progress towards the team’s or organisation’s shared goals. Get them on board with a common purpose and formulate a plan to attain the said goals without letting further disputes get in the way.
Set your plan in action
Share a plan of action and next steps with the concerned individuals. Don’t leave room for any ambiguity. Explain their respective roles and clarify their doubts. Guide your team in the right direction and ensure that the plan is effective and feasible.
Check-in at regular intervals to ensure there is no fallout and plans are being followed. Give regular feedback and make adjustments to the plan whenever necessary. If disagreements persist, evaluate them and come up with a new strategy to resolve problems.
Be ready to take tough decisions
Sometimes, conflicts can continue despite your best efforts. If the problem is not so much about policy, communication, or culture, as about a person (or people), you need to change tack. Identify the individual(s) at the centre of the conflict. Enroll them in training or team-building exercises that may help them change their conflict-causing behaviour. Change their duties and responsibilities if needed. Give them specific goals which they need to meet, failing which a permanent separation from their job role would be the only outcome.
While minor disagreements can be solved by employees on their own, major disagreements require leaders to step in. Lastly, don’t shy away from getting professional help to resolve frequent issues – it might be just the impetus you need to change your workplace culture for the better.
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