Written by: Pamela L. Kingsley, Shareholder with Tiffany & Bosco, PA
According to the ever-changing font of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “A conflict is a clash of interest. The basis of conflict may vary but it is always a part of society.”
Just as no two conflicts are alike, there is no one-size-fits-all way for handling them. Even those businesses that seek professional assistance to address deep collective divides based on race, gender, age, or even political differences, may be assisted by using some of the methods regularly embraced in dealing with less emotional differences of opinion.
Here are some management tools that skilled managers use for effective conflict resolution:
- Do not delay – Although it may seem easier to ignore an issue, hoping it will go away, the problem may simmer and eventually boil over. While some difficulties may be solved by a simple, transparent discussion, the perceptive employer recognizes those that are only going to fester, and acts promptly to reduce unnecessary and disruptive tensions. However, be careful not to attack an issue in anger or frustration or before you have had time to consider your approach carefully. Prepare yourself. Conferring with your colleagues may be your first best step.
- Begin with respect – Clashes and biased perceptions of fault can affect all levels of employees, including management. Supervisors may have preconceived ideas of their employees’ actions and motives, as well as personality and character traits – integrity, industry, and loyalty. They can result from cultural differences (values, practices, traditions, and beliefs) regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Employers who start conversations obviously favoring one side without hearing all sides will more likely fuel the dispute than resolve it. Even if you already favor one employee over the other, remind yourself to keep an open mind about the specific issue at hand, and work toward a fair solution for all.
- Be the boss – Many owners attempt to be neutral third-parties in all situations where employees disagree. You need to establish and maintain control during open discussions. Even where only a small degree of coaching is needed, use your combination of skills and finesse to set the tone and direction.
- Listen – Whether called open communication or active or empathetic listening, the purpose is to listen to all the parties involved, without interrupting. Everyone needs to feel heard and be understood. Too often, assumptions are made based on other people’s versions. Rather than cutting off employees before they are able to talk, encourage them to say what is on their minds and in their hearts. A good technique for this is to ask open-ended questions rather than those that require only yes or no answers. Sometimes employers need to dig below the surface, as there may be an underlying non-work problem at the root of one or each of the employees’ actions or complaints.
- Be positive – Employers need to avoid being caught up in the drama. You should focus on the issues, not necessarily what each side did, and not personalities. Recognize that positivity is a mindset. Beyond discouraging the parties from engaging in personal attacks, have them realize that a creative resolution can rehabilitate or revitalize other work relationships and boost everyone’s productivity
- Seek a solution – “Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.” (Anonymous). The purpose of conflict resolution is to reach a resolution. It is unreasonable to hope that simply by having employees air their differences, everything will work out. Let the parties know they need to work together toward concrete solutions. Ask for recommendations on how everyone can return to focusing on the goals of the company. Talk over the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone.
- Provide a solution – If possible, establish achievable goals – immediate and long‑term. Work with the employees to create a plan with specific action steps and deadlines. Who will do what by when? Identify a way to determine the status of reaching the goals.
Nearly four in 10 employees say their manager fails to frequently engage in honest conversations about work topics, while three report their manager does not encourage a culture of open and transparent communication. One way to minimize the number of conflicts needing to be resolved is to adopt and follow policies that encourage employees to voice their concerns in an open and honest manner – free of fear of retaliation. It will help foster an environment where, someday, who knows, your employees may nominate your business for recognition as one of the top places to work in the Valley!