We all experience some conflict from time to time, whether it’s in our personal lives or in the workplace.
Minor disagreements are to be expected, and in many cases, should not be perceived as negative. Differing opinions in the workplace are healthy sources of creative and innovative solutions. The important thing is to be able to understand when the conflict is helping your business, and when it passes that point and becomes harmful.
It makes sense to monitor and deal with conflict; a labor study found that on average, workers in the United States spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, which translates to about $360 billion in pay.
So, how do you deal with conflict before it costs you money?
Remember, your employees have most likely not had any form of conflict management training, and may treat disagreements at work the way they treat disagreements at home – with hurt feelings and resentment that’s often taken to a personal level.
Here are 5 steps to successfully resolve conflicts between employees:
1. Don’t ignore the problem. It’s tempting to count on conflicts working themselves out, because then you don’t have to step into an uncomfortable situation. However, these problems almost never resolve themselves, and will likely worsen. Humans are hard-wired to embrace negativity. Step in before the situation escalates beyond your control and your company suffers.
2. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you’re in charge, either as a supervisor or company owner, you may think you can tell your employees to knock it off and that will be the end of it. It won’t be the end of it, and the resentment will fester and grow. Even worse, if you make an “I’m the boss” executive decision with little or no explanation, it could present the appearance you’re siding with one employee over another.
3. Listen before acting. If you’re not already good listener, it’s a difficult skill to develop, but one you’ll need to resolve just about any type of conflict. Hear everyone out, try your hardest not to make assumptions and then make a decision based on what’s best for the company, not what’s best for any one individual.
4. Remove the personal feelings. If you’re able to weigh in on a dispute from an objective point of view, it gives everyone the opportunity to achieve some distance from the situation and allows tempers to cool. Explain the thought process behind your decision coolly and calmly. Don’t mention names; only refer to the well-being of the firm. Ask upset employees to think of the issue as a company problem, not a personal one.
5. Consider a compromise. Recognize there’s a gray area in almost every situation. Get the employees talking, encourage them to find good points in the arguments on the other side and ask them to help you find a workable solution. In the long run, settling for common ground will get you farther than forcing compliance. Unless the problem is resolved for all the parties, the problem is not resolved.
Editor’s Note: Amy Materson is the managing editor for sister site Equipment World.