If you find yourself in a conflict situation, you already have some ideas about what you can do to make things less dramatic and more productive. However, when you find yourself in a conflict that takes more than a drink and a conversation, you may want to have other tools and skill sets on hand.
When you are the Manager
If you are in the workplace and you are the one that is in charge of a team, you want to know how to handle conflict so that your team can be productive and effective.
At the same time, you do not want to create an office in which you avoid conflict all the time. Human beings are simply going to disagree with each other from time to time. Nevertheless, it is how we focus on working with what will likely happen that will make the difference.
While we will talk about preventing conflict in a later section, there are ways to manage conflict when you are in charge.
- Have an open door policy. Instead of being hands off when it comes to conflict, you may want to let your employees know that you are available also. You might not be able to solve problems, but you might be able to lend an objective ear to the conversation.
- Have a conflict process. As stated earlier in this course, having a clearly defined process for conflict can help keep things smoother in the workplace. You might state that people need to work things out on their own first, and if that is not working, then they bring the problem to the team. Moreover, if that is not working, then the two will need to seek out mediation. Have this be an agreed upon policy so everyone is aware of their role in the process and how they can take responsibility along the way.
- Hold training about conflict. Another way to make sure that your employees can manage conflict in the workplace is to have training about what this process can look like. You can choose to create the training on your own, or you might call in a professional who is certified in conflict management.
The more active you can be about acknowledging the fact that conflict does happen and that there are ways to manage it, the less stressful the work environment can be.
When you are the Target of Conflict
If you are in a conflict where someone is targeting his or her feelings or accusations towards you, you will want to find a way to approach it in a productive way.
A few things to keep in mind are:
- Continue to do your work. While you might be distracted by the conflict that is happening, it is essential that you continue to do the work that you have been hired to do. This will ensure that your standing at work remains high and that you are not causing additional conflict along the way.
- Address the conflict immediately. However you might want to wait things out and hope they resolve on their own, just by naming that something is happening can help you feel less stressed and pressured by the situation.
- Reach out for help when you need it. If you find that you cannot get past the conflict as easily as you thought you could, reach out to your manager to see how you can work together to get things sorted out.
- Be focused on the idea that solutions are possible. While it might be difficult to be positive about what is happening, it will be less stressful if you can focus on the fact that there is a way to work through things. When you can remember that solutions are possible, they can often present themselves.
- Have outside interests. If you are a person that focuses primarily on work and nothing else, it is going to be difficult to let go of a conflict. You will want to have outside interests that you can turn to, so you can let off steam and you can get outside perspectives. In fact, your friends might be a good place to turn for advice on how to handle a difficult situation. Since they do not have a stake (presumably), they might be able to see something that you have been unable to see yet.
No matter how difficult a conflict might seem, when you can stay on task and you can focus on the idea that things will resolve in some way, you can keep the workplace from being affected, as much as possible.
The Long Lasting Conflict
In some workplaces, it might be possible to have a conflict situation that does not seem to resolve itself, or it might be that the conflict was attended to, only to come up again.
When these situations occur, you may need to look at the bigger picture.
- What rules or procedures are not working? In some situations, the processes of the workplace may be causing the conflict. When you notice this to be the case, then you may want to propose a new way of doing things, which can alleviate stress and can help you to avoid these events in the future.
- How are people being supported in their duties, or not? Another thing to look at when people are in conflict is whether they have the support and the resources they need. If a person is assigned to a role as a chef, but they do not have the tools they need, then it can make for a tense situation. But when workers have what they need, they can do their job and focus on their tasks. Consider whether workers need more from you or from the company.
- Can you live with the situation? When a conflict does not seem to be solvable, it might be a good idea to ask yourself if you can live with the situation. In some cases, you might be able to distance yourself from it, especially if the conflict does not directly involve you. If you can maintain your distance and ensure nothing more happens, you might be able to stay on the periphery.
In most cases, long term conflicts tend to work themselves out. A person will decide to leave or the conflict will no longer become an issue.
While this is not always the case, and you should certainly be prepared for the worst, realize that sometimes the worst of times will pass more quickly than you think.
Later on, we will talk more about how you can manage this sort of situation in the long term.
Manager to Manager Conflict
Though you might be the one in charge that does not mean you can avoid all conflict. In addition, you might find yourself in a position where you are the employee and you have to watch management argue.
No matter the situation, you need to think about what is best for the company and for the task at hand. Just as you would think about a relationship as the larger frame for dealing with a personal conflict, you need to consider what you can do for your workplace, even when management is the problem.
When Leadership Styles Conflict
If you are an employee in a company where two managers just do not seem to get along, it can cause a number of problems.
- A lack of direction. If you have managers who cannot seem to agree on what to do, you might find that you are unable to move forward. You do not want to make the wrong decision, but you also want to know what you should do to benefit the company's goals.
- Confused messages. One manager might tell you something and then another might tell you something else, or they might continue to communicate with teams to disrupt the progress of the other manager. This can be disorienting for an employee, especially a new employee.
- Favorite employees. If there is a situation in which two managers cannot seem to agree on anything, they might start to choose sides to lead. One manager might favor some employees rather than others. This may set up a deep divide in the company, causing more problems and more conflict.
- Unmet goals and unrealized projects. The more confusion there is, the less direction there is, and the less a team can get done. Imagine being told to do one thing by one manager and then being told by the other manager that you should not do that thing. You will be overly confused and you will end up finishing nothing.
- Team communication issues. Since there is confusion at the top when managers are in disagreement, it can filter down to the team. The team hears one thing and then another team hears another thing, and the teams might have troubles deciding what to listen to, what is being followed, and what is important to know.
- Stalled progress. The overall progress of the company can be stalled when you have managers that refuse to work together. This can be frustrating for everyone, and it might be where the managers blame each other.
- Employee turnover. When employees are unclear about their direction and how they can succeed, they may look for work elsewhere. They want to be at a place where they can look to a leader for guidance, not for mixed messages.
- Poor outside reputation. How bad the company might look to outside companies in the industry may not be easily recognized or identified by an employee. A bad reputation for the company might cause an employee to take on that reputation as well, even if they have nothing to do with the conflict.
When managers have mixed feelings, it is damaging and detrimental to the company, at all levels.
Providing an Example to the Team
If you are a manager who is facing a conflict, it can help to remember that you are the leader and the example. While you might want to be the one in charge, and you might be the one that that wants to have it your way, this might not be possible.
To provide your team with an example, work collaboratively with the other manager, and start setting positive things in motion.
- List problems. Together with the other manager, focus on the problems of the company. By naming these problems, you will begin to see what is happening and you can focus on solving the problems as opposed to blaming each other.
- Devise solutions. Think about possible solutions and fixes for your problems. This might include strategies that you both devise together, or you might work on each of the solutions that are best suited to your individual strengths.
- Be a united front. No matter what you decide to do, make sure that you act as a team when you are in front of the employees. This will encourage the team to do the same, even when they do not agree with something that another team member is doing.
- Communicate often. The more you communicate with the other manager, the easier it will be for you to work through a conflict. Too often, managers who do not get along will avoid each other for as long as possible. However, this only creates more tension and more misery.
- Ask for team input. When you cannot come to a decision as a management team, get the entire staff together to see how you can problem solve together. This will make decisions based on the entire company's thoughts, and not just on the managers' ideas.
The more that you collaborate and work through the rough stuff, the more easily you can navigate leadership differences.
Chances are good that you will not be working with someone who is just like you. Nevertheless, by trying to see his or her point of view, and by trying to see what you can do together, you can make management something that the team can trust, and not fear.
Learning to Support each other's Style
One of the tricky parts about being in management is trying to find a way to support a leadership style that you do not understand or one with which you do not agree.
Many times, this challenge may be something that you tackle on your own, and not as a team, making it a bit more energy consuming on your part. However, if you spend the time working on these issues, you will find that you will reap rewards for your efforts.
Here are some ways you can begin to support a different leadership style.
- Find their strengths. Try to identify the strengths of the other manager. Find out what they are good at or what is their expertise. The more you focus on what they bring to the company, the more you will see the value of working with them.
- Invite their input. Instead of trying to get your ideas heard, try listening to their ideas and ask for their input about your ideas. You may learn something that helps you refine your own leadership style and approach.
- Ask questions to understand. If you do not understand what the other manager is trying to do or why they are trying to do it, ask them for clarification. Make sure that you are asking from a place of understanding and not from a place of telling them that they are wrong.
- Try new ideas. The more you can open up to new ideas, the more you will be able to work collaboratively. Instead of fighting everything you hear from the other manager, try out things. Who knows? You may just stumble on something great together, and then you can both claim credit for it.
While you may never completely agree with the ideas of someone else, you will begin to see how they are valuable to the company, which is what will allow you to work together.
After all, you have the common goal of success.