Friction happens naturally in organisations. It can stimulate lively, fervent debate about issues – and lead to improved organisation, better results and improved customer service.
But when that friction is personal conflict between employees, it can waste energy and increase stress levels, eventually reducing people's productivity. Employee conflict can quickly spiral out of control if it’s not dealt with in the right way: employees leave, there are more mistakes and customer complaints, and more sickness absence.
The good news is, as a manager, there’s a lot you can do to minimise its impact and defuse situations skilfully before they become real business concerns.
A recent UK study has shown that most managers typically spend about 3 hours a week dealing with employee conflict in some form or other. In some companies it’s over 25% of their time. Here’s how to make the most effective use of that time:
Get the timing right
Once a conflict comes to your attention, don’t allow things to drift. People can sometimes sort things out between themselves as adults given encouragement and guidance, but the longer it’s left to build, the more difficult it becomes to deal with.
If you’re intervening, set a time and place to speak to the employees involved in a confidential setting. Meet them separately if things have become fraught.
Facilitate a resolution meeting
Meeting to help resolve conflicts between people in your team involves difficult conversations that you’ll need to manage carefully if there’s to be a positive outcome:
- Prepare your opening remarks carefully. Outline the issue in an objective way, describing your own perceptions of the conflict, how this makes you feel and why the situation is important to you and to the team.
- Invite the employees to do the same.
- Make sure both sides of the story are heard.
- To help people to stay less emotional and keep things in perspective, ask closed questions to establish the facts (who, what, when, where, how)
- Encourage both parties to listen to each other and understand how the other sees things.
- Reflect back what you’re hearing, using phrases like “Let me see if I understand you…” or “It sounds like...” Empathy absorbs tension.
- Find common ground, such as the greater good of the team. Encourage compromise and co-operation. Agree what has to be different if the conflict is to be resolved.
Build a respectful workplace culture
Lack of respect is a major cause of conflict at work - 61% of employees cited this as a major gripe in a recent study. Conflicts are much less likely to happen in a workplace with a culture of respect, that’s why getting a few things right will keep infighting to a minimum:
· Managers act as role models and ensure everyone feels valued and supported
· Employees have regular one-to-ones with their manager where their concerns can be heard
· Any criticism is made in private and not aired in front of the whole office
· Praise is given where deserved and employees are recognised for good work
· Your business is as transparent as possible, with no one kept in the dark about company news, performance or procedures.
· Managers have confidence to deal pro-actively with any disrespectful name calling and unfriendly cliques they come across in the workplace.