Workplace conflict is a certainty. People who spend five days a week, eight hours a day together will eventually find reasons to quarrel. But mix in the stressors of a professional environment, and you have a virtual powder keg, waiting to explode. These conflicts can cause far-reaching negative effects on the people in your workplace. Absenteeism, high turn-over, poor productivity, and even violence can be a result of conflict and contention. But, never fear, you can lay the right foundation to avoid most workplace conflict, and the stubborn problems that still come up can be dealt with skillfully.
All employees should know, very clearly, what is acceptable and what is not in your office. Covering the laws put forth in the EEOC is a good start. You want to cover yourself and your employees by keeping them well-informed on what the government has deemed a safe and fair work environment.
But, there are many issues that aren’t covered in by EEOC laws. For instance, maybe one of your managers is spending a lot of time watching the comings and goings of one employee, but not the others. It’s possible that this manager has developed a personal grudge, or maybe she feels that this employee needs more supervision. Both individuals should know what to do in this situation. Perhaps your policy is to let them sort it out for a time and only take it to mediation when they realize they can’t solve it. Perhaps you want them to bring it to the attention of HR right away, before it gets out of control. But they should know that there are structures in place to help them.
Very often, the people involved in a conflict just need to know their feelings are being validated. They want to be heard. Often, when they are put in a room together to talk with someone who is trying to help them both, they feel better just because they feel understood. However, don’t go too far with “validating feelings.” If a situation has just reached a breaking point and there are signs of violence or danger, the best option is to remove one or both employees from the company. There must be a sense of authority combined with your compassionate approach.
Culture is key for many reasons, how people feel when they are at work can be a major contributor to whether they are fighting or not. These elements of company culture are key.
Give thanks. Your employees should feel valued, appreciated and important to you. If you do this, people will feel less threatened in their jobs and more likely to let other things slide.
Provide respite often. Take your employees to lunch, to sporting events, set up a pool table in the lunch room. They need to take a break occasionally to alleviate stress. This will make them less likely to find fault.
Encourage communication. If one employee is angry with another, tell them to try to bring it up, in their own words, to the person they are angry with. Often, the offending party doesn’t even know he or she is causing pain or frustration and a simple conversation can resolve it.
Be positive and open. This will be contagious and set an example. A positive attitude can uplift the entire office.
As a leader, dealing with conflict is part of your job description. Lay the groundwork for a happy and positive work environment and you will get the best of your employees everyday.