Conflicts are demonized and feared, and poor conflict resolutions often sully the company’s reputation and lead to multimillion settlements with offended employees. The truth is, this fear is partially justified, if conflicts are a result of politicking and orchestrated efforts to oust someone and overtake their position (or even a whole company). Unfortunately, in such cases the solution is only one: spot the plotter and weed him or her out from the team before things go south.
But more often than not, conflicts are just work-related issues that were not managed properly and drifted out of control (and you can read more on it here). So the sooner you detect a conflict and steer it towards a safe resolution, the better for the company, its employees, and, ultimately, for you as a company owner.
Roots of Conflict: Emotions and Communication
Causes and triggers for any conflict may seem extremely diverse, from arguing over delegation of tasks to digging for reasons for the project failure (or investigating who steals dinners from the fridge in the common kitchen). Yet when distilled to their essence, all conflicts can be divided into two main groups: miscommunication and mismanagement of emotions. In other words, either someone could not explain to others what the problem is, or someone let emotions prevail over job duties. Of course, the other way around is also possible: someone did not want to listen, or someone started throwing insults at others without even trying to talk things through. In any case, such conflicts can and should be managed, and we will provide essential tips from experienced leaders and managers how to approach them.
Strategies to Use (and Not To Use)
The famous 5 strategies of conflict resolution do exist and get implemented in real life, but it does not mean they are equally effective. Competing and avoiding are useful only for people who practice them, but not for the company and its goals. Winning over a colleague may feel like a huge personal success, but in reality it only creates bitter animosity and resentment in the team and makes collaboration practically impossible.
Accommodating, compromising and collaborating are more productive, although in various degrees, and it is collaboration and compromise that you should strive for as a leader and a conflict mediator.
Steps Of Conflict Resolution (And Where To Read More On The Matter)
When you have spotted a conflict and plan to curb it while the flame is still low, remember the main principles: create safe space, listen to everyone and move towards a real solution that will work for everyone.
Here we will outline how to translate these principles into actual steps. If you are interested in an immersive extended guide on conflict resolution, read more in the professional blog.
– Assign space and time for meetings. Invite all involved. No one should feel left out or neglected. Set rules of behavior, like talking in turns, being polite, avoid yelling, not placing the blame, etc.
– Identify the conflict you are going to work through (without finger-pointing) and listen to what your employees feel about it (yes, feelings are valid components of conflicts).
– Get down to the problem. Is it about work, resources, beliefs, behaviors, or something else? What is the solution every party proposes?
– Get to the needs that underlie these solutions. It is important to understand the motivation of every party involved, not just one side and its allies. Do not let the crowd push you into a solution favoring individual interests. When you see the motivation, it is easier to find a solution that suits everyone.
– Look for common points. You may not see agreement on a big issue, but once you get people agree on smaller ones, like the core of the problem, or fears to be eliminated, or smaller changes that can be introduced right now, you’re on the right path.
– When people are in the cooperation mode, ask for their views of solutions anew, and offer alternative ways out as well. Let employees agree on the best one, just ensure that everyone has their say. Silence is not a good sign in this case.
– Include the follow-up into the plan. A meeting, reports provided by both parties, anything that can confirm that everything is OK – or not.
These are generalized steps that help you navigate the heated environment of conflict and extinguish the fire before it becomes too big. Definitely, this guide is practical but brief, and we encourage you to read more on the matter and be well equipped for embracing conflicts and turning them into opportunities, as they say.