Employee conflict occurs on every team, whether it’s in little league baseball or in your professional work settings. How the leader of the team, handles conflict can either make or break the cohesion of the team— moreover, no one benefits when these conflicts are ignored—not the employees or managers.
Here are some tips on how to handle conflict from an article titled 4 ways to harness the power of conflict in your team from HR Grapevine:
- Be explicit about the value conflict can bring: As a team leader, subtly trying to influence the level of conflict in your team won’t work. You need to be explicit in your expectations and why a degree of conflict is needed and valuable for performance. Make it clear that differences of opinion within the team are both inevitable and useful. As a leader, state how you expect people to share their opinions, especially when they differ from the group, as this may help uncover assumptions, enlarge the pool of available information and shine a light on what matters most to those involved in certain tasks. Left buried, these differing opinions can derail a team; aired openly for consideration, the team can use put the insight to good use.
- Back conflict ideals with role modeling: It’s no use asking people to share their opinions and reacting negatively or defensively when they do. Remember the positive intent that’s often at the core of conflict; when someone is bold enough to share a controversial opinion it often reflects a deep level of care and passion for what they do. As a leader, listen for what it is a team member is protecting or trying to improve. Aim to explore and understand, rather than resolve and answer.
- Invest time upfront co-creating and establishing the team ground-rules: It’s common for a team to spend time clarifying its purpose but much rarer for a team to invest time explicitly discussing how people will work together and provide constructive challenge to the group. Contracting this in advance creates positive expectations and lays the foundations for building trust and clear communication. Alongside explicitly stating the value of conflict, spark a team discussion around: what would it take for people to feel able to speak without censorship? How can we disagree with each other whilst always ensuring people feel respected?
- Pre-empt relationship conflict with personality insight: Inevitably team members will have different values and styles in the way they interact with others at work. The more self-awareness and understanding team members have of each other’s preferences and how these may differ from their own, the less likely team members will be caught off guard or misinterpret someone’s style or approach. This insight helps stimulate and structure discussion around some of the personal differences it’s easy to overlook as a team.
Bottom-line: Understanding the reasons behind workplace conflicts can help managers tackle problems before—or after—a conflict turns into a face-off between departments that refuse to work together or a screaming match between colleagues.