Workplace Conflict Resolution: 10 ways to manage employee conflict and improve office communication, the workplace environment and team productivity
Disputes between employees are inevitable. But if left unresolved, they can disrupt your department's productivity, sap morale and even cause some good employees to quit...
That's why Business Management Daily, publisher of The HR Specialist and HR Specialist: Employment Law, has prepared this "workplace survival" special report for managers, employees and HR professionals: Workplace Conflict Resolution: 10 ways to manage employee conflict and improve office communication, the workplace environment and team productivity.
Section 1: Managing Employee Conflict
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #1
Negotiating workplace conflict: 3 tips for managers
Conflict happens in all corners of the workplace. Here are three tricks of the trade for resolving workplace conflict, according to Jeffrey Krivis' book Improvisational Negotiation:
1. Let people tell their story. When people are deeply upset about something, they need to get their story out. This is a basic principle of mediation and one that’s important to remember.
Yes, allowing people to speak their minds can increase the level of conflict with which you must deal. That’s OK. You have to get through the conflict phase to find the solution.
2. Bring a reality check to the table. Often in a conflict, the parties are so focused on minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture and its implications. As the mediator, you need to bring people back to reality by wrenching their attention away from the grain of sand and having them focus on the whole beach. Doing so may help resolution arrive at a startling speed.
3. Identify the true impediment. In every conflict, ask yourself: What is the true motivating factor here? What is really keeping this person from agreeing to a solution?
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #2
Team conflict resolution: Knowing when to referee
Disputes between employees are common and inevitable. The difficult decision is when to step in, says Joseph F. Byrnes, professor of management at Bentley College’s Graduate School in Waltham, Mass. “Give the warring parties a chance to resolve it on their own,” he says. “The time to take action is when things get out of hand, and the problems are affecting their work or disrupting other people’s work.”
Find out if the conflict is work-related and has a structural root, or whether it’s interpersonal and has no relationship to the job, Byrnes advises. An interpersonal conflict can happen on or off the job, whereas structural ones are inevitable in many organizations.
Discover the five techniques Byrnes suggests for dealing with either kind of conflict in Workplace Conflict Resolution.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #3
Don’t be swayed by office politics
As the manager, your approach should be to resolve the situation without offending or alienating either group. “Uppermost is not being seduced by the politics of one group over another,” says clinical psychologist William Knaus.
When politics get in the way, it’s time to step in cautiously. “You don’t want your boss to think that your division is riddled with divisive disputes,” Knaus says. “Your credibility is on the line if you can’t right the situation.”
Easing tensions between warring factions isn’t easy.
“A bad move on the manager’s part could create irreparable barriers, decrease productivity, as well as dampen morale,” Knaus says. “The situation must be carefully managed so that you’re not taking sides.”
Your goal is to keep everyone focused on solving a problem and not be sidetracked by personal or political issues.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #4
6 steps for managing ‘difficult’ employees
Working alongside difficult people can be hard enough. But managing someone with whom you have a personality clash can cause major tension.
Experienced managers know how to separate emotions from the work at hand when dealing with employees. Rather than dwelling on an employee’s negative personality traits, smart managers focus on tasks, projects and results. They don’t allow their personal feelings to interfere, and they treat everyone the same way.
But in too many cases, managers simply turn away from their least favorite employees. Rather than interacting with them, they avoid them. What’s worse, managers may just write off the problem employees and do the employees’ jobs themselves.
Turning your back on difficult employees isn’t just a management mistake—it can also create legal trouble. That’s because employees who frequently bump heads with management are also the ones most likely to file lawsuits when they feel they’re being treated unfairly.
That’s why, when confronted with employees who don’t do what’s asked, it’s best to devise a strategy for making the best of a potentially explosive situation.
Although it may be hard to transform a difficult employee into a warm, friendly ally, there are several steps you can take to make it easier for the employee to comply.
Discover 6 strategies for managing difficult employees in Workplace Conflict Resolution.
Section 2: Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers and Bosses
Are you frustrated by your boss, aggravated by colleagues or stuck on a management dilemma?
In this section you’ll find answers to all kinds of “in the trenches” questions, compiled from Business Management Daily's Your Office Coach blog by Marie McIntyre, Ph.D.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #5
My boss is driving me nuts! How do I make it stop?
Q: “When my boss assigns a project, he never shares all the information that resides in his head. As a result, I usually fail to achieve his vision and have to redo my work. If I ask for details, it’s like pulling teeth. I’ve started emailing him my questions with bullet points, so he can type in the answers. ‘Mr. Visionary’ says he wants me to think outside the box, but I think he really expects me to read his mind. Help! How do I work with this person?” — Karen, Atlanta
Marie’s Answer: You and your scattered boss illustrate a typical difference in thinking styles. “Creative Visionaries” focus on the big picture, get excited about new ideas and love making changes. Sound familiar?
“Organized Implementers,” on the other hand, emphasize details and outline action steps. They plan ahead and despise last-minute changes. You seem to fall into this category.
Visionaries and Implementers can make a terrific pairing, but they also drive each other nuts! To manage this style gap, consider these suggestions:
• Realize that all brains are not the same.
• Recognize each other’s strengths.
• Accommodate the differences.
• Ask for what you need.
• Team up for success.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #6
Q: “My boss hired his ‘good friend’ as a top-level manager. This woman has no qualifications for the job, and she’s making costly mistakes. She also pawns her work off on others and treats everyone rudely. We’ve tried talking to the boss about this woman’s inexperience and offensive behavior, but he refuses to listen. Some long-term employees are considering leaving. How can we explain this without putting our jobs on the line? Her behavior has had a major impact on our work and may do long-term damage to the company.” — Afraid to Speak Up
Marie’s Answer: Help your boss see the problem by getting his attention without insulting his management ability. Start by viewing things from his perspective. Friend or not, this woman was his choice for a high-level job. So when you say, “She has no qualifications,” you’re really saying, “You were an idiot to hire someone like that.” Not exactly the smartest approach.
Find Marie's suggested strategy for handling this management situation in Workplace Conflict Resolution.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #7
My co-workers resent my promotion: How do I resolve this workplace conflict?
Q: “My boss is promoting me to supervisor, but several co-workers are unhappy about it. Ever since he told them, a few people have been very nasty to me. None of these co-workers showed any interest in the position, yet they now find fault with everything I do. I feel like I’m under a microscope. I don’t go to work every day to make friends. My goal is to do a good job and earn a living. After I’m promoted, should I talk to these people about their behavior or should I act like it never happened? How do I squash this jealousy and nip this behavior in the bud?” — New Supervisor
Marie’s Answer: Being elevated above your peers is seldom easy, but these back-stabbing co-workers sound particularly tough. So you need both a transition plan and some self-examination.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #8
Q: “My team recently got a new boss who is very green as a manager. Although I have 20 years’ experience, she makes it abundantly clear that she feels superior to me in every way. She talks incessantly about her credentials and all the ‘important’ tasks she has been given. I find her condescending, unapproachable and inflexible. Staff meetings have become a painful experience because they accomplish nothing. Our new boss will not discuss projects in detail nor take any direction from ‘subordinates.’
“I have known her manager for a long time and have a good relationship with him. He’s a fair guy, and he respects my opinion. Should I tell him how I feel about my new boss?” — The Underling
Marie’s Answer: Although “newbie” managers can be frustrating, the biggest problem with this supervisor is your reaction to her. You’re doing a very poor job of “managing up.” Some tips:
• Like many new supervisors, your boss feels insecure and inadequate. To compensate, she puffs herself up to show that she’s the boss. If you threaten her authority, she’s likely to retaliate.
• Your own emotional needs are also on display. You resent her failure to recognize your experience and follow your advice. But if you display this resentment, you may soon be labeled “difficult to manage.”
• Adopting a helpful and cooperative attitude toward this inexperienced manager is a better career strategy. You’ll win political points by becoming her ally.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #9
Favoritism in the workplace: ‘She’s the boss’s pet’
Q: “I work with someone who is the boss’s pet. She talks on the phone with him all the time, and he allows her to work extra hours, even though I also could use the overtime. This co-worker reviews all orders and also is responsible for updating the computer records. Whenever a problem arises, the boss calls her to discuss it. There are only two of us here, but he won’t cross-train me on her duties. How should I handle this unfairness?” — The Unfavored One
Marie’s Answer: Your colleague apparently has been given the lead role in your office, even though no one has officially said so. If your boss was smart, he would formally define duties and clarify roles, but many small-office managers fail to do this. Having a peer elevated above you without explanation is annoying, so your resentment is normal. However, it’s also a complete waste of emotional energy. Instead, focus on furthering your own career.
Find Marie's suggested strategy for dealing with the boss's pet in Workplace Conflict Resolution.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #10
Dealing with a boss who throws more than a temper tantrum
Q: “My boss recently got upset with a co-worker about some problems with customer orders. To get her attention, the boss reached across the desk and grabbed ‘Angela’ by the jaw. When I spoke with Angela about the manager’s improper behavior, she agreed that he was probably wrong, although she wasn’t too disturbed about it. I decided to have a talk with my boss. I told him that I found his actions inappropriate, and he agreed with me. But when he learned that I had already discussed the situation with Angela, he became very irritated. My talking to her really bothered him. Should I have handled this situation differently? What should I do now?” — Appalled Worker
Marie’s Answer: Your manager’s physical confrontation with Angela was appalling and also illegal, since he could be charged with battery for such uninvited touching. Now what?
• Your boss should be ashamed of himself for losing control. That may explain why he’s upset that you discussed his outburst with Angela.
• Giving honest feedback to a manager takes courage, so congratulations to you for calling him on his offensive and immature behavior. If your comments help to curb his impulsive reactions in the future, then you will have done him a big favor.
• Grabbing an employee is so out of line that someone really needs to know about it. This guy could easily create legal liability for the company. So if you have a trustworthy human resources manager, consider having a confidential talk with that person.
• As for your boss, you don’t need to say anything further to him. Odds are that he’s more upset with himself than with you. And he now knows that someone is watching his behavior.