Conflict in the workplace isn’t bad per se. It can be a source of new ideas and insights, helping an organization drive innovation. But there are times when conflict does get heated and the situation can spiral out of control.
In highly serious situations, companies may need to work with lawyers who specialize in employment mediation.
Before that happens, however, leaders need to step in and effectively address the issue at hand. Whether you’re a CEO, project manager or team lead, you need to rise to the occasion and guide your team towards effective conflict resolution. Below are a few tips on how to achieve that.
Find the right timing, but don’t let conflicts fester
As a leader you have to find the right time to respond to a particular issues. While it can be tempting to try to solve things right away, this may actually make things worse.
If you set people aside to talk about how their lackluster performance disrupted the team, make sure you’ve gathered enough proof to back your statements. Otherwise, you could be creating another layer of conflict with a particular employee — on top of the one he or she already has with the team.
At the same time, don’t wait too long to act. Without a timely and decisive response, conflicts and disagreements can fester into something far more serious.
This can be tricky if you still don’t have enough evidence to effectively address this issue, but you start seeing signs of overly aggressive interactions. In such a scenario, waste no time in talking to the concerned team members directly, but make it known that you’re still working on collecting all the relevant facts.
Empower your employees
As Sun Tzu once said, “every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” While this may not necessarily apply to every situation, there’s a grain of truth to what the late Chinese general said thousands of years ago.
You don’t need to engage directly in conflict resolution. You can empower each team member to have the right tools to amicably resolve tensions. A good way to do this is through coaching and mentoring. These one-on-one sessions are a good way to share methods and mindsets that can help to positively address conflict.
Walk employees through anger-provoking phrases and gestures. Show how self-awareness is crucial before engaging in an argument. Help them to better see each perspective during a conflict.
Sooner or later though, bigger issues will require your intervention, but that’s normal. What is important is that employees are well-prepared to handle most conflicts that come their way.
Initiate a cool-off process
It’s important for leaders to properly conclude a conflict once it is successfully diffused. The last thing you want is for lingering thoughts and distrust to sow the seeds of another conflict.
Help concerned parties to acknowledge what was said or what was done wrong. These statements have to come out of their own mouths. Then, have everyone commit to next steps by asking key questions like:
“What can we do moving forward to avoid disagreements like this?”
“How can the team encourage more open and honest communication to leave no space for ambiguities?”
People may not be hugging or shaking hands right after, but setting a forward-looking tone will help everyone recover and move on properly.