Wherever groups of people gather, conflict is nearly inevitable. In situations where teams are tasked with working together towards a common goal, disputes over the specifics of how this is accomplished are equally likely.
But there is a wide gulf between healthy, productive conflict and all-out ugly arguments. Often it is the level and quality of leadership that is the deciding factor in how disputes arise and resolve within a work group. In this post, learn about effective leadership skills that can lessen the severity and duration of workplace disputes and pave the way for more effective resolution.
Skill 1: Time your intervention wisely.
In many situations, it can be useful to sit out the conflict for a period of time just to see whether staff can resolve it on their own. This can also be helpful to gather more information as the dispute unfolds.
However, when disputes at work begin to drag on, it can affect productivity, morale and trust within the whole work group. When team members are no longer able to work productively together or speak respectfully to one another due to the dispute, it is time to step in and mediate towards a resolution.
Skill 2: Aim for a win-win resolution.
As today’s work groups become more gender balanced and culturally diverse, conflicts may arise through sheer innocent misunderstandings. Rather than barging in with an ultimatum, aim to employ keen observation skills to see if you can uncover any underlying misunderstandings that may be fueling the conflict.
It may also be helpful here to meet with each staff member individually and invite them to speak openly and honestly about their part in the conflict.
Skill 3: Open up your ears and LISTEN.
Another potential conflict-driver is differences in communication styles between employees. Here, one employee may attack when threatened, while another may retreat to ponder. These types of conflicts offer a ripe opportunity for communications coaching.
By laying down some basic ground rules for how to communicate in conflict situations, you will ask your staff to stretch and grow outside their individual areas of comfort and develop some resume-building leadership skills of their own.
Skill 4: Use your power for good.
As the recognized leader, how you choose to use your position and power can either breed further conflict and resentment or a newfound respect and loyalty. Figuring out how to effectively use your leadership role by coaching and developing employees to resolve conflict can be a balancing act in itself. This often requires developing leadership skills of your own to work successfully with different personalities towards resolving the conflict.
Ultimately, by doing what you can when you can to level the playing field during the dispute (even if the disputing staff members are at different levels of authority within the company), you can use your own ultimate power for good to end the conflict.
Skill 5: Remove resource scarcities.
When employees perceive that they do not have sufficient resources to do their job in the most effective manner, stress and frustration is the inevitable result. The more stress builds, the more inequity is often perceived.
By talking with the disputing employees, you can often discover where scarcities exist and move to remedy them. If an employee feels overworked, it may be possible to redraw some of the lines of responsibility to alleviate that stress. If an employee perceives another department is resource-rich where they are poor, there may be opportunities in the budget to supplement resources in creative ways.
Skill 6: Refuse to tolerate unacceptable behavior.
No matter how relevant or important the conflict may be, as the leader you simply must insist on a standard of professional conduct throughout the resolution process.
Otherwise, what begins as a genuine work group conflict may degenerate into workplace bullying or harassment (both of which can be potential grounds for workplace negligence lawsuits or workplace injury compensation). For example, you may stipulate that it is fine for a team leader to state team objectives firmly and clearly, but it is not fine to devolve into verbal harassment at work to make a point.
As a leader, by taking a proactive, positive approach towards conflict between staff members, you can set the tone for how future conflicts will be resolved. At the same time, you can coach your employees to hone their listening and communication skills, be respectful of gender and cultural differences, seek out the win-win scenario and, above all, remain respectful throughout the process of conflict resolution.
In this way, you can create a culture where healthy dispute and conflict can exist for the betterment of the team itself as well as the quality of work they produce.