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Stay above fray when workers fight

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

It's one thing to have an open-door policy and welcome input — including complaints — from your people. It's another to get caught up in every dispute between your team members. Here's some advice for staying above the fray from columnist and consultant Joan Lloyd:

- Expect workers to be grownups. "You may have good intentions to react and solve your employees' problems for them," writes Lloyd, but "it is often the wrong thing to do. If you jump in too soon, your employees will be only too happy to let you take responsibility for resolving every issue."

Set a clear expectation that your workers are adults who should be able to resolve their own disputes. This not only saves you time and spares you stress, but also keeps the conflicts in perspective; even trivial disputes tend to become crises once the boss gets involved. And it eliminates the risk that you'll inadvertently take sides before you have all the facts.

- Teach conflict-solving skills. Lloyd suggests you start by asking questions: "What have you done so far? Why do you think she is angry at you? How has it affected the customer?" Follow this with a role-playing strategy: "What could you say to her?" Your aim is to guide employees "through a thought process about their own responsibility," Lloyd writes.

It's especially important, Lloyd notes, that you not step in when an employee is afraid or unwilling to confront another directly. "If you become the mouthpiece of the anonymous complainer, you will only make things worse," she writes. Insist that the worker take the first step on his own, and give him coaching and support to help make that step effective.


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