Employees are humans and all come with different experiences, skills, preferences and ideas. Subsequently, conflict is somewhat hard to escape in the workplace. As a manager, you are charged with keeping it to a minimum and eliminating it where you can. These strategies can get you on the right path.
Create and enforce stronger conflict-related policies.
In some offices, conflict runs rampant because workers really have no clear consequences for their behaviors. Just as a child will test limits with a parent until he knows what the boundary lines are, so too, will many employees push their employers to see what is and is not acceptable. Identify potential problem areas in advance and spell out what you will and won’t tolerate, along with a systematic guide for progressive discipline in those areas. Everything in your policies and procedures handbook should support the growth of mutual respect.
Change your system for going to human resources.
If people in your office don’t have a good way of submitting formal complaints to your human resources department, they can end up complaining to each other. They might end up taking sides, leaving your team divided. If the problem persists, open confrontations can bubble to the surface. If your workers have easy processes for letting HR know there is a problem, however, then HR representatives can tackle the issue head on and get to the heart of what is going on very quickly.
Talk to your employees more.
Workers come to their bosses with issues or concerns only when they feel comfortable doing so. If you are rarely present except to bark orders or give the occasional thumbs up, then they’ll feel distanced from you and likely won’t alert you there’s a problem. It also will be much harder for you to grasp the nuances of the office dynamics enough to head off potential issues in advance. Make it a point to communicate and get to know your staff members so they know you are there to help in fairness, and so you have a better understanding of what each worker’s trigger points happen to be.
Train your workers how to react.
Sometimes conflicts grow into mammoth proportions simply because workers don’t have their own arsenal of tools to cut it down to size. Remember, HR is there, but because getting them to resolve everything is inefficient, you want employees to have ways of disarming each other, as well. Give your employees strategies they can use in the moment to stop arguments, such as active listening, taking some deep breaths, or asking what the other person needs. Offer group and one-on-one training sessions to hone these skills in your team.
Model what you want to see.
As an office manager, you set the bar for behavior in your workplace. Subsequently, if you want your employees to practice open communication, you have to do it, too. Don’t teach them to avoid issues by being wishy-washy or sending ambiguous responses, and above all else, conduct yourself with objectivity and calm.
Remind your workers of your goals and their active roles.
When workers are fighting, they can lose sight of what everyone is trying to accomplish collectively. Talk to them about the company or project vision and be clear about how you see each person contributing. This kind of behavior helps each worker feel valued yet raises awareness that he needs to cooperate to move forward. It also provides a good opportunity for you to clarify the authority each person has and what the specific protocols are for different situations.
Work on office morale.
Conflicts are often a symptom of low employee morale, which can happen for a large range of reasons. Techniques such as offering new opportunities and incentives, providing more praise, getting more variety into the scheduling and projects and supporting career and personal development all can help, depending on your situation.
Conflict is inevitable in an office to a certain degree, but there’s no reason to let it go unchecked. Strategies such as modeling, changing HR approach methods and laying out clear policies and procedures are an excellent start to cutting it off early. An important point to remember, however, is that every conflict area is unique. You might find that one technique is effective for one area and not another, so be open to trying new methods as situations arise.
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