Wouldn’t it be great if everyone on your team got along with each other all the time? That might sound great, but it may not be the most realistic goal. After all, conflict does tend to come up — in some fashion — any time people work closely together. But conflict isn’t always bad. It can actually be a good thing, if it’s properly addressed and handled. When conflict is handled productively, what started as a disagreement can lead to innovative solutions, and even a boost in employee bonding.
However, employees sometimes need a little help from their boss when getting past disagreements with their coworkers. When conflict keeps employees from being productive, their manager may need to help them work through the issue and get back on track.
As a manager, it’s important to pay close enough attention to the team dynamic so that you’ll know if any team members are having trouble getting along. You might not need to jump in right away — just keep an eye out to see if the employees involved are working through things on their own.
If they’re not, it may be in everyone’s best interest for you to step in to help. The earlier you assist with disagreements that employees are struggling to work through on their own, the easier it’ll be to help defuse tensions and empower those involved to work through their differences.
How you become aware of issues between employees won’t always be the same. Sometimes you’ll become aware on your own, and sometimes an employee (either one involved in the conflict, or another who is affected by it) may tell you about it. No matter how you find out about it, you could need to act quickly to identify the problem and take steps to help make sure it gets resolved. If you don’t, the situation may escalate.
How you become aware of issues between employees won’t always be the same.
How to proceed will require you to get a good sense of what’s causing the disagreement. This usually means having one-on-one conversations with the individuals who are in conflict. Whether the problem is simply office gossip, or one employee’s perception that another is not pulling their weight, employee disagreements can negatively impact the work environment and lead to decreased productivity.
Is the issue something minor that doesn’t need management to get involved? If so, encourage the employees who aren’t getting along to work through the conflict together. Be careful in how you do this, though. You don’t want employees to see you as a boss who’ll fight all of their battles for them, but you should also avoid nudging them into an uncomfortable situation that they don’t know how to navigate.
When small conflicts lead to employee disagreements, think of your role as that of a coach.
When small conflicts lead to employee disagreements, think of your role as that of a coach. Explain why it’s best for them to work through the situation on their own, but let them know that you’re there to help if they need it. For example, if they aren’t sure what to say, guide them through the appropriate dialogue to set up a smooth, productive start to their conversation.
When a conflict is too big for those involved to work out on their own, you’ll need to step in. By this stage, it’s likely you’ll have already spoken to the individuals on their own at least once. If you need more detailed information before sitting down with them together, you may want to speak with them one-on-one again before moving forward.
The next step will be bringing them together to help work out their differences. It’s important to set the stage for a productive discussion —one that’s focused on working together to get to the root of the conflict so it can be resolved. Be sure to:
Express your appreciation for the employees and their working relationship.
Let them know you’re aware of a pattern of behavior that’s not productive.
Let each employee involved have uninterrupted time to share their perspective.
Suggest they avoid using blame-oriented language like “you never” or “you always.”
Ask questions to help them consider the situation from each other’s perspective.
Ask each person involved to share what they can do to improve the situation.
Discuss options and alternatives, then work out a plan together that everyone can agree on and implement. Encourage them to keep the lines of communication open between each other so they can deal with further conflict before it grows too big. Reassure them that you are always there to help.
Once your employees agree on how they’re going to resolve the issue, it’s a good idea to provide them with a written summary of the agreed-upon plan. You can share this by email or in printed form — either works. This ensures everyone is clear on what each person agreed to do, and it can help boost accountability for everyone involved.
The reality is that not everyone is going to like or get along with everyone else.
This type of documentation can also be beneficial to you — you’ll have a record of how past conflicts were handled when new ones arise. Keeping this type of documentation can also help you identify patterns regarding employee disagreements. With a record, you can see if issues tend to creep up at certain times of the year, or if the same people seem to be involved in conflict.
The reality is that not everyone is going to like or get along with everyone else. Even when people do get along, disagreements are bound to happen now and then. Your team needs to know how to work through conflict constructively, and should be able to set aside personal differences to maintain productivity and focus on the work that needs to be done.
As manager, it’s up to you to model the communication, conflict resolution, and behavior you expect from your employees. You should interact with employees in the same way you expect them to interact with each other. By keeping an eye on the team dynamic, you can act promptly to ensure that disagreements and personality conflicts don’t derail your workforce.
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