How leaders can deal with conflict in the workplace

Conflicts at work are extremely common. Indeed, it is not possible to make change without conflict happening. However if it is not managed correctly or becomes too personal, it may adversely affect the motivation and team morale of other employees. Then the working environment can become toxic and negative if strategies aren’t put in place to resolve issues between employees. At the extreme, it can lead to talented people leaving or even the organisation being remodelled to break down the entrenched positions. Here are a few top tips for leaders dealing with conflict to enhance team performance:

Find common ground

If conflict is brought about through a disagreement over ideas within meetings, persuade your team members to transfer that negative energy into a brainstorming or ideas session. You hired these individuals because they were passionate about the company, therefore understand that conflicts may arise due to wanting the best for the business. Everyone has their own perception of the problem and the way to solve it. Ask those in conflict calmly whether there are any positives in carrying on the disagreement, and if not, encourage them to move on with the discussion.

Help employees to feel secure

When conflict arises between employees, there can often be a sense of self-doubt amongst the more vulnerable and shy members of staff. As a leader, it is always a good idea to reassure those individuals that they are highly thought of within the company and that the conflict won’t affect their position within the team organisation. Simon Sinek explains why this is important in this video:

Remind them that they can talk to you whenever they need to, and that everyone is working to keep things professional and get the team back on track.

Don’t be afraid to take charge

The main aim of leadership is to get your team to the right outcome at the right time for the benefit of them and the wider group. In all organisations, the way forward often has difficult choices that have both upsides and downsides. This means that every decision has the potential to cause conflict. However, there does come a point when the time for discussion is over and a decision needs to be made – and that decision may have to be made by you. Indeed, you may have to adopt a far more autocratic style to get rapid progress to meet a short term deadline. However, if you are in “tell” mode more than “sell” mode, then you probably aren’t getting the best out of your team.

Timing is everything

If you notice there are conflicts emerging between employees, ensure you nip it in the bud early rather than leaving it too late. Having said that, it is always worth finding hard evidence or proof before discussing issues with each employee. Teams are complex things and, like an iceberg, a good proportion of what goes on happens out of sight. It may be values, behaviours or other characteristics that are causing the issue. The key is to find an acceptable compromise to allow the protagonists to work together on an ongoing basis. If this cannot be found, then the only solution is personnel change, which is a long and hard road….

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Image credit: Discussion by eekim licensed under Creative commons 4