Conflict in the workplace exists everywhere, regardless of the size of the company or type of business. As long as you have a minimum of two people working in the same office or on the same project, you have the potential for conflict.
There are different types of conflict. You can have a conflict with a boss, peer or subordinate regarding personality clashes, performance issues, jealousy, or general mistrust. There are also team conflicts that arise when a team is performing poorly due to low levels of communication, trust, direction or accountability. And there are also conflicts between departments within a company that arise from protecting one’s “turf”. Each type of conflict has its own unique set of problems, but there are some general mistakes people make when trying to manage these conflicts regardless of the situation.
DON’T TAKE SIDES
An employee comes into your office to complain about the conflict they have with someone else. Your job as the leader is to remain neutral, hear all sides of the situation, and facilitate the people involved to help them solve their problem. If you take sides, even if the situation clearly shows someone is wrong and the other person is right, you risk permanently damaging the relationship with the “wronged” person. They will most likely choose to remember how you didn’t pick their side and they will develop a stronger level of mistrust towards you. It will be harder to solicit this person for positive work involvement and they risk becoming a larger problem in the future.
DON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM
Unless the situation is a clear case of harassment, theft, abuse, etc., don’t rush to solve the problem for the people having the conflict. It’s too easy for some employees to expect their boss to solve every problem that arises and it’s a habit you do not want to encourage. Every person involved in the work conflict is an adult and with the right direction and skills, they can become empowered to learn how to resolve the conflict in a satisfactory manner for all involved. Your role as the leader is to facilitate the resolution of the conflict by stressing the importance of finding a “win-win” solution for all parties and attaining agreement and cooperation on a plan of action.
DON’T IGNORE THE CONFLICT
It is tempting to want to ignore a conflict and hope that it will resolve itself. However as the leader, it’s your responsibility to set the example of what behaviors, actions, and emotions you expect in the workplace. If you ignore conflict, you’re setting the tone for the office and creating an environment that quickly becomes hostile, negative and “every person for him/herself”. The longer the conflict remains, the more it will fester and affect the work environment. By addressing it quickly when it arises, you can eliminate a potentially larger problem in the future.
DON’T LOSE YOUR TEMPER
Negativity begets more negativity. As frustrating and emotionally draining conflict management can be, set the tone for resolving the conflict by remaining positive and professional at all times. When you resist the urge to yell, name call or blame the people involved, you signal to them that those behaviors are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. They feel their problem is genuine and it should be treated as a real concern with respect, consideration, and kindness.
Leaders can help maintain a more positive work environment by avoiding these mistakes. If the conflict remains unresolved or the steps to resolve the problem have failed, bring in a leadership or team advisor to help all parties involved develop better communication, trust, and appreciation for each other’s differences. A neutral third party will be able to facilitate the resolution to everyone’s satisfaction.