Managing Conflict

What do you do when there is conflict on your team?

Let’s face it: Sometimes people just don’t like each other.

Managers struggle daily with interpersonal conflict between and among employees on their team. It is a common and difficult challenge.

Sometimes conflict is just a momentary clash between two particular individuals. Other times it’s more complex. Usually both parties share some responsibility.

How to navigate conflict:

  • Employee conflict is usually an indication of a leadership void. Conflict emerges when there isn’t a team honor code. As a leader, you influence the moral culture of your organization–directly and indirectly. Employees don’t turn to written statements in the company handbook for clues on how to behave—they look at you, their leader, and each other. You have a responsibility to consciously model the “code” you want others to exhibit. Step one: Look in the mirror. What leadership example are you setting? Be a role model for the behavior you want employees to imitate.

  • If conflicts linger, you need to intervene. Leadership is often about doing the things that most people don’t like doing. Conflict resolution is one of those things. Bring both parties together via a 3-way conversation and deal with the situation directly, out in the open. Rather than impose your influence, learn to see things from differing points of view. People respond best when they feel understood. Conflict is rarely black and white. In fact, most conflict situations are gray. Support your team by seeing the resolution that others don’t see.
  • Decisions need to be made.  Should you separate those involved on different projects, in different areas, or on different schedules? Or do they need to work together? If it’s the latter, they need to agree on some common ground rules for how they are going to work together. Have the courage to make the tough call.
  • Leaders reframe the conversation. Conflicts arise when team members don’t feel their value is recognized, or their job function is being sabotaged. Role model the appropriate language. For example: “Dan I understand you believe it is helpful when you tell Dave his idea won’t work, as you don’t want him to go down a rabbit hole. A more helpful response would be: ‘While that may be possible, I’m concerned we don’t have the time to work out all the potential issues that may arise with that approach.’”  Help them see how behaviors cross the line. Help them reestablish boundaries. Coach them on what to say and how to say it so they can engage with others more professionally.
  • What about the bully? Bullies are too often tolerated at work because most leaders don’t want to deal with their behavior. When an employee feels intimidated, insulted, publicly criticized or dreads working with someone, chances are you have a bully on your hands. Dealing with a bully requires a willingness to exercise personal courage. Squash any attempts they make to gossip, spread rumors or talk poorly about other coworkers. Remember: You’re the adult dealing with a tantrum. No wise parent gives in to a child’s fit because it just leads to more fits. You have a responsibility to confront a bully and set limits on tolerated behavior.

A leader neutralizes conflict and does not allow it to run rampant.

Leadership is about taking appropriate action before it’s too late. Conflict doesn’t ‘go away’ all by itself. Leaders who avoid conflict always regret it later. Managing it can be tricky, and how you deal with it has the potential to define your leadership. More importantly, it will ultimately reveal who you are as a person, and the values you stand for.

Want to discuss a personal challenge with conflict? Contact me and we can schedule time.