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We need to talk about Brian – how to resolve conflict at work

Pssst – I have a confession. There’s nothing worse than a co-worker you can’t stand to be around – right?
Whether their emails come off as patronising, they have a very different approach to tasks and projects — or maybe they’re just not your type of person. 
You can pick and choose your friends but not always your colleagues – so if you’re a manager of a team – how do you keep the peace?
Well, as someone who has been in many work environments, when personalities rub – and lets face it they sometimes do – productivity suffers; morale plummets and stress levels escalate. Even small things can turn into arguments, and this can be extremely destructive for company culture, trust me.
Unfortunately you can’t avoid the possibility of coming across conflict as any type of people manager. In my experience it’s something you have to handle fairly, swiftly and professionally in order for your team members to not only trust you but respect you too. 
I’ve been there and bought the t-shirt. So how would I go about it from my observations?

Foster relationships

The more you know about your team, the better. You don’t want to just diagnose their problems- that’s only half of being a good boss! So instead of sending out an email with links in it for webinars on managing stress levels and forgetting about it…why not get creative? What if coffee and a chat is really what they need? Do you know anything about them? As in their family? Friends? Pets? Hobbies?
Make yourself a trusted ally – for everyone (remember what I said about being fair?). That way if clashes arise – you can make yourself the mediator and allow the other sides point of view to be considered (did I say I was also a counsellor lol?). And if one to one “chats” are regular – you can oversea and anticipate any potential trouble brewing.

Don’t be shy when it comes to conflict

Conflicts are never worth sweeping under the rug – despite the temptation. You have a responsibility to your employees and they deserve a fair hearing and a swift address. They will all be watching to see how and when you react to any bubbling issue – like a referee in a hockey match. This way – your decision will be final.
A minor delay tactic that I’ve seen is for someone to acknowledge the problem and say it will be picked up; “I can see you’re frustrated lets pick this up in our one to one session” – which gives you time to reflect and decide what the heck you’re going to do.
Top tip; keep track and take notes of any escalating tension in case things get really bad – you may need to call in your superiors.

Use performance management tools

Performance management is a staple in most businesses and should be an encouraging, supportive process. Formal processes and tools can allow early intervention in personality conflicts by acknowledging the affect they are having on employees own performance. 
It also lets them know you will formally monitor the situation but hope they won’t allow any problems affect their work – because of your support!

Facilitate communication

Despite your best efforts as a UN spokesperson to keep a regular peace – sometimes you aren’t going to prevent the occasional war. As soon as you see or hear something alarming going on in your team get ready to step in.
Start with informal one to ones. Identify the root cause and above all remain neutral, attentive and avoid taking sides or making hasty judgments.
Once you have a clear understanding – bring the two parties together with you as facilitator. Again – objective and fair. Your aim is to find the common ground on which they can both agree and find a resolution.
Above all follow through. Do what you agree and continue to follow up until both parties are happy and can move on. Got that soldier?!

If all else fails – go for the nuclear option

When all other avenues have been exhausted, formal procedures are the last resort. This should also be used for serious cases of harassment or discrimination where you feel it is necessary to take action immediately in order stop any type of harm from happening before it’s too late. This isn’t a failure on your part – this is a reflection of the sometimes serious nature of workplace conflict.
If you’re not in HR yourself, at this point the professional HR team or consultants will definitely be needed. These types of escalation can get messy – so you need to make sure you are doing things fairly but correctly according to good practice.
The peeps at iXerv know all about this sort of stuff – you should give them a buzz if you’re worried you don’t have proper procedures in place.
In the meantime, the next time that particular goody two shoes annoys you, you can always put salt in their tea “by mistake”.
Until next time…

The Secret Diarist

1 Comment

  • rob
    Posted November 23, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Love this. So often these things get left unresolved and can cause problems all round – not least to the person causing the issue – sometimes its just a misunderstanding!

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