Management Matters

9 Rules for Managing Conflicts at Work

Date Posted: 04/26/2016

9 Rules for Managing Conflicts at Work

Work can be stressful enough without the added pressure of conflict between colleagues, so how can you resolve a row and make sure everyone feels fairly treated?

The workplace can be a pressurized environment at the best of times. Managers and employees face daily challenges keeping up with the pace of changing technology, meeting increasing customer demands, matching or outdoing the competition, and meeting targets while increasing efficiency. Keeping everyone happy at the same time can be a challenge, but a happy workforce and a convivial working environment are crucial for a successful business.

Workplace conflicts arise for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a spur of the moment clash but, more often, someone has finally run out of patience in a pressurized situation. Worse still, a long running feud or a case of bullying comes to a head.

Clearly it’s best to prevent a conflict in the first place, but sometimes you just don’t see it coming, so here are nine rules to manage the situation:

     • Nip it in the bud

Act swiftly to find out what has happened and why. If you fail to handle the problem as a priority, it could escalate into a grievance, which will take longer to deal with and have a greater negative impact on your work environment and the staff involved. Don’t let lack of action lead to the loss of a good member of staff who feels the situation is simply intolerable and irreparable and hands in their notice.

     • Follow your company policy

As an effective manager it is your duty to know your company’s policies and procedures inside out, and follow them. Staff look to their superior for sound guidance and advice, especially if they feel distressed or compromised. So before you get involved, make sure you are well informed about all HR matters.

     • Get the whole story

Go into the situation with an open mind. There may be a history of conflict between two colleagues, or one particular employee may always seem to be butting heads with others, but don’t make any assumptions before you know the facts.

     • Treat each party equally

It’s essential to treat each party in the same way, even if you think you know which one is at fault. Meet each employee privately and give them the chance to tell you the whole story from their point of view. It’s important that they feel you are listening, and that you have an open mind, so make plenty of time for them and don’t cut the meeting short to rush off to something else.

     • Remain calm and professional

It might be difficult or emotional for some staff to recount the conflict, it might have been the final straw in a long running feud that you weren’t aware of, or simply someone having a bad day, but be prepared for tears, indignation or anger and don’t get emotional yourself. By remaining calm and professional, you make it clear from your example that you expect professional behavior from your staff too.

     • Try to affect a reconciliation

A reconciliation is not always possible, depending what has happened or why, but it’s important to get the two parties together to talk things through in a private setting. Depending on how serious the problem is, it might be helpful to include an impartial third party or a member of HR at the meeting. Hopefully the conflicting parties will see that they have over-reacted and the problem is easily resolved. Compromise may be essential, but hopefully everyone can go away with their dignity intact.

Most large companies and organizations employ qualified professionals to counsel staff and resolve disagreements. This can be useful where the manager is unable to resolve the conflict, or if the conflicting parties prefer to talk things through with someone they don’t know.

     • Be prepared for the worst

The worst conflicts can end up in tribunals or litigation, so you need to be prepared for the long haul. Disciplinary procedures must be followed if someone has stepped over the line. This is regrettable but sometimes inevitable. It’s important to maintain good morale among other staff and ensure the department as a whole is not adversely affected by the situation.

     • Never turn a blind eye

Managers should never be tempted to turn a blind eye in the hope that the situation will resolve itself. It won’t. Putting your head in the sand not only enables the problem to grow, but reveals you as a weak leader.

If one person perceives themselves as the injured party, they will see inaction by their manager as both a lack of support and as tacitly condoning the other party’s behavior. For an employee who has behaved unacceptably, a manager’s lack of action may be perceived as an endorsement of their own bad behavior.

     • Learn from the situation

Many conflicts are avoidable and caused by everyday workplace pressures that can easily be addressed. Make sure your staff aren’t overloaded and stressed. Acknowledge them for their hard work and make sure they feel valued. Listen to their ideas and foster team spirit. Empower your staff so that they have a sense of ownership of their duties and pride and satisfaction in their achievements.

Whatever your position – manager, HR or junior – the most important rule is to make sure it’s not you having the conflict! Be prepared to overlook the smallest irritations or an apparently grumpy colleague. Sometimes somebody is simply having a bad day and it has nothing to do with you.

It’s inevitable that disagreements at work will occur, but be tactful, don’t let them escalate and never make them personal. Always treat your colleagues with respect and hopefully they will treat you and their colleagues the same way.

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