Conflict happens in every organization. Many organizations have more conflict than they’d care to have, but it’s inevitable that in any workplace where more than 1 person is employed, there will eventually be conflict.
As a manager, whether you like it or not, you have a role in the conflicts that bubble up between your team members. Now the myth is that managers are supposed to resolve these conflicts to preserve harmony between the other team members. Nothing could be further from the truth. Managers who attempt to resolve or fix conflicts are often looked at as less than effective in their role. The managers who earn the respect of their teams are the ones who facilitate the process of conflict resolution and help the conflicting parties reach a solution which both can live with.
There are a few key things you can do to minimize the amount of conflict that happens on your team and to reduce the negative impact that comes when conflict eventually surfaces.
- Set expectations about collaboration and teamwork – In many competency models we develop for our clients we create a competency that deals with collaboration. This is one of the ways you can minimize the impact of conflict. If you are clear on the front end that you expect people to get along and work together to solve problems and resolve disagreements, it makes it much easier to manage when it happens. You can point to the competencies and show that it’s one of the things your workgroup values.
- Understand that not all conflict is bad – In a healthy organization, disagreements and differences of opinion will happen. You don’t want a group that just accepts what you or others on the team say as the only way to operate. You want people to push back respectively in the spirit of making the team better. If you step in too quickly and mute this creative tension, you run the risk of not having people take the chance to have their opinion heard in the future.
- Address it when it happens – Some managers subscribe to the theory that if you just ignore the conflict, there’s a chance it will go away on its own. It won’t. It will only get worse. I recently heard a story about two employees who hadn’t gotten along for years because a piece of material was cut in the wrong place. If you are aware of the unhealthy conflict, whether you see it, or it’s brought to your attention by others, you have to make an effort to get it resolved.
- Have a process to use in facilitating the conflict – The easiest way to get resolution from a conflict situation is go get both parties in the same place and help them through this process. Remember, your job is to facilitate the discussion and agreement, not to solve the problem:
- Ask the first person for their view of the conflict. What is causing the conflict from their perspective?
- Ask the other person to tell you what they heard the first person say. Not to editorialize or add comments, just feedback what they heard.
- Repeat the first two steps but reverse the roles.
- Ask each person what suggestions they have to resolve the conflict and move past the disagreement. Continue to facilitate the discussion until they both agree to a solution they can live with.
- Set a time to follow-up. This creates the accountability necessary for each to make an effort in implementing the solution.
The last thing to remember is that these conflicts rarely get resolved in one meeting. You may have to meet with the pair a couple of times and they may have to go away and think about their part in the conflict and the solution before they can commit.
If you remember these things, you will be able to maintain the appropriate level of collaboration required for you to get important work done.