We’ve all experienced workplace conflict at one time or another – and if you haven’t experienced it yet, be prepared, because you probably will. You can’t do anything about conflict itself – it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. As a leader in your workplace, you will likely be someone who helps resolve conflicts, whether they involve you or not, and doing so requires using emotional intelligence. With a mix of emotional intelligence and some specifics to address, you can brace for conflict and handle it when it comes. Here are five tactics that people in leadership roles can use for dealing with workplace conflict.
1. Define acceptable behavior
Upfront communication can stave off conflict because people know what is and is not expected. Here are some behaviors you can clearly define:
- Job descriptions and responsibilities
- Best practices for collaboration, such as who works together, how they communicate, and the type of feedback that’s expected
- The decision-making process and who has the final say
- Who employees report to and who is allowed to delegate certain tasks to others
It’s important that everyone understands what is appropriate and what won’t be tolerated. Sometimes clear communication from the beginning is enough to avoid certain conflicts.
2. Expect conflict in certain situations
There will be times when you know conflict is coming down the track. For example, if you change lunch hour break times, you know that some people will have a problem with it. Or, if you start using a new project management and collaboration system for your team, there’s going to be people who are reluctant to switch over. The good news is that you can predict these types of conflicts and preemptively start thinking about how you’ll handle them. For example, you could ask for volunteers to change their lunch hours first, or you could schedule a one-month rollout for the new software so everyone has time to get used to it.
3. Think about what’s in it for the people involved in the conflict
Most of the time, people have a reason for starting or being involved in a conflict. It’s always deeper than an individual looking for a fight. As a leader, you have to think about the motivations behind the actions and behaviors. What’s in it for the people involved in the conflict?
For example, let’s say Beth is upset with Kate because Kate sends a lot of short emails about things Beth has to correct. Kate is upset that Beth keeps complaining about it because she feels she’s just doing her job. Behind the initial conflict is Beth feeling like she’s making too many mistakes and not understanding that Kate is expected to correct them; Kate is frustrated because she’s over-worked and is just trying to solve problems as quickly as possible. You may then decide to clarify Kate’s role to Beth and provide extra training so Beth becomes better at her job, and hire someone new to help Kate with her workload.
4. Talk it out
If problems persist, you’re going to have to all sit down together to talk it out at some point. As someone in a leadership role, your job is to guide the conversation so both sides get their turn to speak. It’ll be particularly helpful if you can point out the instances where the two parties are in agreement. In the example above, both Beth and Kate agree that Kate’s emails are short and dashed off. Simply acknowledging this as truth can be the first step toward solving the issue. Kate can explain why she writes such hurried messages and Beth can explain what she’d be more comfortable with and responsive to.
5. Get help from a pro
Even if you’re skilled at conflict resolution, you may be too close to the problem or the people involved to help objectively. If that’s the case, consider hiring a professional mediator. If the conflict is escalating and you think a lawsuit is imminent, that’s even more reason to consider mediation first. You, the mediator, and the involved parties will come together to try to find a resolution before the situation gets dire enough for a legal claim.
There are many wonderful perks to leadership: feeling like you’re at the helm of a team, being respected for your experience and having the final say on decisions that can change the course of business. With leadership comes conflict, too, and there’s no way to escape that. Part of being a leader is knowing how to address that conflict – your job extends way beyond just its positive components. If you find that your co-workers are constantly in conflict, though, there may be a larger problem at play that’s out of your hands, such as how the company is run from the top. If that’s the case, consider looking for a new job – keep your current job as you do, because employed workers have an easier time finding their next role.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.