Robert Half International
As a manager, helping to resolve employee conflicts comes with the territory. In a Robert Half survey, executives polled said they spend, on average, almost one-fifth of their time sorting out personality conflicts among staff members.
One common mistake many managers make is to downplay a problem or assume it will go away on its own. Chances are, it won't. You must address an issue before it grows out of control.
Working with a single person
Say you have a worker who is constantly butting heads with colleagues. Meet with the individual and deal with the issue head-on. Explain how you've noticed that he seems to be having trouble communicating effectively with others and that deadlines could be missed because of this behavior, which impacts group morale and productivity. Keep your tone neutral and the conversation impartial so it's clear you're not taking sides or "picking on" the employee.
Try to find out what's driving the behavior. A personal issue could be causing the person stress and impacting his attitude at work. If it turns out to be work-related, try to get to the root of the problem. Is he upset about being passed over for a raise or promotion? Has he outgrown the job and become bored with his responsibilities?
Work with the person to develop an action plan to resolve the issue. For example, if he is bored with his job, help him explore alternatives, such as an internal training program that can allow him to develop new skills or prepare for a different role within the company.
Serving as a mediator
If an employee is having trouble with another worker, meet with both individuals so you can hear each staff member's side of the story. Does it appear that one person is clearly at fault? Are they both struggling under heavy workloads, leading to stress and short tempers? Do they have a history of competing for the same projects or disagreeing on how to tackle assignments?
Ask them what type of resolution they would consider fair, such as a more equitable division of projects. If the two employees can't agree on a solution, your job is to come up with one and ensure that both adhere to the guidelines you've set.
Objectivity and fairness are key. Develop a time frame and follow-up steps to ensure both parties are sticking with their ends of the agreement and that the suggested resolution is proving effective.
Monitoring the team's morale
Conflict can be dangerous to a healthy team because the squabble can quickly spread to other employees. You need to be sure the issue has not polarized the work environment, with employees taking sides. If that's the case, it could drag down morale and even cause dedicated employees to question their fit with the team.
To gauge the effect of a conflict, gather feedback from your staff. Maintain an open-door policy to encourage employees to come forward with suggestions on how to strengthen the team. Also ask staff members to meet with you individually to share their thoughts on the group's morale.
Perhaps the best way to deal with office conflicts is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Fostering collaboration and camaraderie among team members can cut down on workplace politics, gossip and infighting.
Order in lunch for team meetings or hold occasional off-site gatherings. These types of events, which combine business and leisure, encourage staff to get to know one another on a personal level and help promote better understanding.
Whether you manage five people or 50, tensions and disagreements are bound to arise. Prevent them from escalating into intractable battles by addressing the behavior head-on. You'll not only make your own job easier and more enjoyable but also help set a standard for your team to follow.