Dealing with Employee Conflict
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Throughout my career I’ve often heard, “Conflict is a good thing for an organization.” I agree with this. Conflict has a wonderful way of challenging our ideas and beliefs. Being comfortable with conflict has a powerful role in our growth as leaders. Imagine a leader unable to be vulnerable when being challenged, or strong with conviction when they need to offer an alternative position. This individual wouldn’t be much of a leader and certainly wouldn’t be bringing value to their company.
At the same time, there’s conflict that doesn’t have a positive impact on a company. That’s the conflict that can exist within our employee teams at work. A leader needs to be equally as comfortable addressing this type of conflict. Throughout my career, I’ve observed leaders, or maybe non-leaders, ignore employee conflict until the issue explodes. The conflict is ignored for numerous reasons; a few I’ve witnessed include:
- Managers want to be liked by their employees.
- The leader has reluctance due to the conflict stemming from a top performer.
- The source of the conflict benefits the leader financially.
- The leader is immature and afraid or unable to address the individual.
It's important leaders understand that while they’re ignoring the conflict, a number of negative outcomes are taking place. First, the employee conflict will become the talk of the floor and begin wasting valuable work time. Second, the leader’s reputation and credibility are being negatively impacted. And third, employee trust for the leader is being undermined. Ultimately, employee satisfaction and engagement will be negatively affected.
Dealing with employee conflict isn’t always easy. I can honestly say that while I don’t enjoy addressing these issues, I don’t fear or avoid them. Here are a few simple guidelines that have been helpful for me:
- Deal with the conflict as soon as you’re aware it exists. It’s much easier to address the issue before it becomes larger than life.
- Leave emotions out. You need to approach the issue factually and not emotionally. This will keep the other party from becoming emotional. If the conversation gets charged up, take a break and come back together once everyone has calmed down.
- Start the conversation by clearly communicating what the conflict is and the employee’s role in creating the adversity. You may find they weren’t aware how their behavior was affecting others.
- Practice active listening with the employee during the meeting, even though you want to make sure your point is made and understood.
- Don’t assign resolution to the employees involved. This isn’t their job. It’s okay to have the employees take the first pass at resolving the conflict. However, remember, they're peers and it’s ultimately your responsibility to bring resolution.
- Recognize and praise changed behavior. This goes a long way in sustaining the changed behavior.
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