We’re all very familiar with conflict, whether it be in our friendships, familial dynamics, or professional relationships. Conflict is a regular aspect of interpersonal relationships and, when handled productively, can lead to innovative solutions. Not being on the same wavelength with someone frequently occurs in a world of individualism and disparate thoughts. Different backgrounds, values, ideas, personality types, and work habits get in the way of our workspace thriving in unison. And as we strive to increase the diversity of thought in our organizations, conflict too generally increases.
Today, we’re focusing on the most effective ways to resolve employee conflict and make it productive, not destructive.
Identifying the issue
The key to successful leadership is tightly connected to social intelligence and advanced soft skills. Identifying the root cause of the conflict is the first and most crucial step. Depending on the parties involved and their disagreement, you can determine the best course of action to reach a resolution. Once both sides successfully articulate their needs, obtaining information on each party’s standpoint and interpretation should lead to open dialogue and decision-making. As Patrick Lencioni points out in his book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, conflict is inherently good in an organization. However, to be productive, the parties first need to trust each other and be able to be vulnerable with each other.
Putting the kibosh on unhealthy tension
Most employee conflicts are just minor workspace hiccups or can be productive conflicts that help a team uncover innovative ideas. This acceptable kind is constructive and doesn’t interfere with the company’s overall dynamic. We learn from conflict resolution and become stronger because of it. Still, we cannot overlook the possibility of malignant conflicts that can create a damaging domino effect if left unattended, further tainting the company’s reputation and hindering its growth, or worse yet, causing your best people to go. Some disagreements continue to linger if the parties involved aren’t able to work it out themselves. That’s when a leader should step in with assertiveness and constructive feedback.
Mastering the conflict technique
For best conflict-managing strategies, we would like to reference the work of the New York Times bestselling authors, Joseph Grenny and Kerry Patterson, and their collaboration on Crucial Conversations (2002) and Crucial Confrontations (2004). So, what do the masters of conflict and resolution advise?
What is a crucial conversation? “A discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.” How do we implement this technique and make it a success within our employee dynamic? The pool of shared meaning is used as a vessel for open communication and equal participation, resulting in a willingness to act. It also reminds us to accept our contribution to the problem and work on ourselves to improve our dialogue skills. And as Patrick Lencioni would add, we also need to develop our vulnerability-based trust for this to happen. If people are too guarded around each other, they won’t accept their contribution to the problem or be able to appreciate the other side.
Dialogue is not decision-making
When dealing with employee conflict, it’s important not to mistake dialogue for decision-making; it’s the process of gathering relevant information from every participant before any action is taken. Generating myriad resolution ideas is likely to branch out rather than narrow down to a single solution. However, it is essential to clear the air and take advantage of the diversity of views. And the more the parties trust each other and can be vulnerable, the more likely the conflict will be productive.
The four methods of decision-making
Depending on the circumstances, any of these may be appropriate. However, when the stakes are high, a collaborative approach usually yields the best long-term solution where everyone can commit to a single course of action.
- Command: The decision is made externally.
- Consult: Leaders invite team members to gather ideas, evaluate possible options, reach a decision, and inform the team.
- Vote: When there are several viable choices, voting will work if all parties feel they can support the most popular choice.
- Collaborate: Debate openly and honestly, and hear from all parties until a mutual decision is reached that everyone supports, even if it wasn’t their first choice.
One of the most effective ways to resolve employee conflict is by mastering this technique. The outcome of a crucial confrontation solely depends on how we communicate the issue. Before taking action, we need to recognize what we are confronting, decide if we do want to confront it, and if yes, reframe our approach – sorting out our headspace would be the last step. Once you’ve locked down all three answers, phase two involves:
- Describing the gap: what was expected vs. what happened
- Motivating others to want to take action: focusing on natural consequences
- Endorsing parties to keep commitments: involving others and getting their buy-in
- Staying focused and flexible: addressing unforeseen confrontation development
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on interpersonal relationships where conflict reigned and to assess if the implemented solution was effective. You can only do so much about potential future disagreements among employees. Nonetheless, your ability to resolve personal disputes significantly improves with each conflict, like with any other hands-on experience. Did everyone have a chance to weigh in and be heard, so they were able to buy into the final solution?
For example, employee conflict when faced with office relocation is frequent. We are creatures of habit, after all. According to our consumeropinion.org source, hiring a reliable moving company to relieve your staff from duties that shouldn’t be theirs is the first step. The next is modeling what you expect from your employees – talking openly about your motives for relocation and listening to their opinions and concerns. Be sure everyone has had a chance to voice their concerns to ensure they can buy into the final decision.
Gaining a better understanding of each other: Introducing DiSC®
Everything DiSC® is an assessment tool used to improve communication, teamwork, and workplace productivity. Many companies use it to improve Emotional Intelligence, maximize their employees’ potential, and increase motivation. It offers personal insight and a better understanding of your co-workers, using cognition to minimize conflict and repair working relationships. The acronym DiSC stands for the four main personality profiles:
Some people naturally embrace conflict, and others avoid it at all costs. The assessment tool Everything DiSC® Productive Conflict helps people understand their biases towards conflict, how to recognize others’ biases, and what to do to have productive conflicts.
Everything DiSC® Comparison Reports
Everything DiSC® Comparison Reports are free follow-on tools that focus on individuals’ personality differences affecting their work relationships. The report compares you to another person, providing specific information about your DiSC® style vs. your partner’s, with traits compared side by side. Example:
- Daring vs. Careful
- Skeptical vs. Accepting
- Private vs. Outgoing
- Calm vs. Energetic
- Patient vs. Driven
- Accommodating vs. Strong-willed
- Tactful vs. Frank
- Soft-spoken vs. Forceful
- Lively vs. Reserved
Finally, the report offers tips and steps toward open dialogue and conflict resolution.
The best advice regarding effective ways to resolve employee conflict is to be approachable, open, flexible, and above all, not afraid to be vulnerable. Most employees will find your kind behavior motivational enough to put in the required effort.
Contact us at PBC to learn how we can help you with conflict, or any other leadership issue you may be facing.
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