Managing Team Conflict in the Workplace

 In Develop & Coach

Managing Team Conflict in the Workplace

How do you referee conflict in the workplace?

Managing team conflict in the workplace is an important skill that every supervisor or manager needs to learn because it’s a fact of life that team members will have disagreements at least once in a while. No matter what, the show must go on, so getting everybody back on the same track is the only way to make that curtain go up!

Q: I’ve got two guys in the production area that are constantly at each other’s throats about their work orders. They each want the same work orders and even though we use our production/inventory management system to assign the work orders as fairly as possible, every other day, they get into it about the assignments. I’m about ready to fire somebody!

A: How frustrating it is when team members can’t figure out on their own how to resolve differences. Whether the differences are merely personality clashes or critical process disagreements, conflict in the workplace is a time consuming and often agonizing situation. I’d hate to see you have to resort to firing one or both employees because they aren’t able to come to terms and remain productive. So let’s review a few tips that can help you with managing team conflict in the workplace overall but also help the team get through the conflict.

Tips for managing team conflict in the workplace:

1. Communicate clearly

Most conflicts occur because of a lack of information or miscommunication. So one of the first things you can do is to make sure everyone involved has all the correct information about the issue at hand. Be open and honest and make sure you’re encouraging your team to do the same. It’s important to establish a level of trust with everyone. The parties in conflict need to understand that you are open to hearing all sides and that you’ll be fair in your dealings. And whatever you do, don’t ignore the situation hoping it will get better, because it won’t 99% of the time. When managing team conflict in the workplace you must take the time to listen and understand each person’s perspective.

2. Be very clear on your position

The people directly involved in the conflict will be all over the place when expressing their perspective, so it’s doubly important that you make sure everyone understands what your position is and when things get off track, bring the group back to focus by restating your position. Even if your position is just to make sure a compromise is reached, continue to emphasize that so everyone knows that the only way to close the matter is to reach that compromise. Everyone needs to know that you are supportive of hearing each side, weighing all information fairly and facilitating a way to come to a compromise.

3. Include everyone

Bring all the people involved together in the same room to begin your discussions. Explain that you are going to give everyone a chance to present their side and that you want everyone to be open about their concerns and about their suggested solutions. If you leave anyone out of this process, it will only prolong or aggravate the conflict.

4. Take time to think

In other words, don’t hurry to come up with a solution to the problem. Managing team conflict in the workplace is a process so make sure you have gathered all the facts, everyone’s position and concerns around the conflict. Then allow enough time to give everyone an opportunity to come up with resolutions, or for YOU to come to a decision on the best resolution or response to meet the organization’s needs.

5. Stay focused on goal

While you’re taking this time, focus on the shared goals of the organization. Staying focused brings more commitment and ensures that you are maximizing the strengths of the group as a whole for the company’s benefit.

  • Explore alternatives: Ask yourself and/or the participants “What if?” Look for new ways to resolve the conflict. Continually strive to remain objective in all your interactions with the group. Remember, the conflict began due to high emotions from each of the involved parties. Therefore, it’s extremely necessary for you, as facilitator, arbitrator, mediator, or just plain ol’ boss, to keep your own emotions out of the equation. Don’t add fuel to the fire!

As it turns out in the situation above, the manager brought the two employees together, used the tips above to gather information and identify the real cause of the conflict. The manager made it clear that their behaviors were affecting their performance and the morale of the other employees in the department. She pointed out that she would begin disciplinary action if they didn’t resolve the issue. Fortunately, in this case, after the meeting, both employees took a step back and agreed to rely on the system and processes in place to assign work orders.

By the way, she discovered that they were fighting over a female co-worker they had both been flirting with! But that’s a story for another day….

Tell us about a time when managing team conflict in the workplace, especially between colleagues, became difficult. What techniques did you use? How did everything turn out?

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