5 Things Managers Can Do About Conflict

Managers often find themselves trapped in the middle of a situation involving members of their team – situations or issues that are not theirs to solve. What’s a manager to do?  A manager doesn’t necessarily own every issue – the employees do. Managers shouldn’t needlessly add to their workloads by trying to solve everything. Here are five tips to help managers understand their role in and the best approach for dealing with workplace conflict:

  1. Know when and how to intervene. Different circumstances call for different responses. If one employee’s lack of performance is preventing other employees from getting their jobs done, the manager definitely has a direct role to play. He has to address performance deficiencies of that team member. If an employee is struggling because of issues outside the workplace, then expert help, such as an employee assistance program, should be suggested.
  2. Give your employees the space to grow. Employees need the freedom and authority to solve problems that relate to their work. Help them to learn conflict management techniques and develop problem-solving skills. As a manager, take advantage of this training yourself and model the techniques and skills you learn. Think of the positive impact for your organization when your workforce is skilled in avoiding the negative impact of unresolved conflict. 
  3. Recognize that tension, egos, and emotions often get in the way. Managers have an interest in developing good working relationships among team members. You should define the problem and the impact it’s having in the workplace. Don’t discount the impact of emotions. Sometimes they are the person’s passion around an issue. Help employees control and balance emotions so they don’t interfere with resolution.  
  4. Strengthen your own facilitation skills. You are often a neutral observer to a conflict. This is a great vantage point from which you can assist by guiding employees through a mediated discussion. Meet with employees, define roles and set ground rules. The employees are the primary players, not you. They will be asking questions of each other and proposing solutions. You won’t offer advice, opinions or solutions, even if asked. You’re there to keep the discussion on track.
  5. Optimize conflict – it’s often creativity and innovation trying to happen. Employees close to the work often have great ideas for better solutions. Help them brainstorm, evaluate and priorities these ideas. When people sit down and talk, calmly and rationally, great information and viewpoints are exchanged. Working relationships are strengthened. Embrace the point of view that conflict is essential in the workplace if it’s part of a creative and engaged culture that wants the organization to grow and thrive. 

April is Workplace Conflict Awareness Month. Spread the word by sharing this post. Let’s help everyone make their organizations workplaces where ideas and respect grow and prosper.

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