Every manager hopes their employees can work together in harmony all the time. Is that realistic? Of course not. It’s completely normal that employees occasionally feel frustrated, not listened to, stressed out, or resistant to change, and that conflicts will arise. That’s okay. In fact, if conflicts are addressed in a sensitive and constructive manner, they can even inspire process improvement and fresh ideas. So, as a manager, what should you do when members of your team don’t see eye to eye? What are some strategies for dealing with conflict in a way that doesn’t affect morale or productivity?
Evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses as a manager. This should always be step one. Take responsibility for your own role. Understand what your management style is, and assess how this style might exacerbate conflict or clash with other styles. Do you avoid having tough conversations with employees? Do members of your team have the tools they need to improve their performance and meet expectations?
Take a closer look at communication. Conflicts can often be traced back to a failure or breakdown in communication. Do your employees feel like they have a voice and the opportunity to share feedback? Create a culture of transparency and openness, where employees are kept up to date about key decisions and changes, and feel empowered to provide honest feedback to their managers. Getting disagreements or points of dissatisfaction out in the open is always better in the long run. Keep in mind, communication is not everyone’s strength, so consider offering communication training or workshops to help your team gain the skills they need to communicate effectively with coworkers and managers.
Be specific about changes you want to see. Get the involved parties together, let all sides voice their concerns and complaints, and ask them to name specific changes they would like to see. Sign off on specific actions that are feasible, even if they are small, and then always recognize these actions as they are completed. Putting a specific plan into place and identifying concrete steps to take is necessary to move forward.
There is not always a resolution. Not every conflict has an easy solution, or a solution at all. It just isn’t possible to please everyone, and certain work styles or conflicts can create a hostile work environment that no amount of discussion or planning can resolve. For this reason, it is important for managers to set clear expectations from the beginning, and have an established performance review system in place. If a certain employee becomes involved in conflicts again and again, do not hesitate to terminate that employee.
Most importantly, don’t avoid conflict, hoping it will go away. Understand that employees want to feel valued for their contributions. By responding proactively, you have an opportunity to gain insight into what your team needs to succeed, and to inspire greater understanding and a shared vision among your employees.
About the Author
Lisa King-Corbin, PHR, is the Process Improvement Manager at Anthros.