Without Losing Your Professionalism
Every workplace will inevitably have occasional conflicts, most of which are due to simple miscommunication or misunderstandings. However, a few may be a result of personality clashes between employees. When these clashes go on too long and remain unresolved, they can have a detrimental effect on morale and productivity and lead to severe disruptions.
Every year, we lose $359 billion in paid work hours or 385 million working days due to workplace conflict. It is rare to have a team where everyone gets along all of the time. Your colleagues will need time to understand their peers’ habits and processes. Nevertheless, sometimes it seems two people can not reconcile their differences. This is where leadership needs to help mediate to minimize the impact of workplace conflict.
Here are six steps to manage different personalities in a workplace that can efficiently help avoid disputes.
1| First Understand the Nature of the Conflict
It’s tempting to make assumptions about a conflict, especially when rumors are buzzing around. However, make it your rule of thumb never to assume anything. Instead, uncover the facts that fuelled the disagreement between your employees.
Start by ensuring you aren’t dealing with an Equal Employment Opportunity Community (EEOC) issue, like discrimination or workplace harassment. Both can lead to a hostile work environment. You should be familiar with your company’s harassment prevention policies and guidelines during this stage.
Once you rule out any EEOC issues, think about the underlying circumstances causing the conflict. Is it the high-stress environment? OR are there clashing work styles at play? What about a challenging project? There might be many factors causing hostility among your employees. Getting an initial idea about what’s at the heart of the issue is vital to resolve the matter and avoid future conflict successfully.
2| Nip it in the Bud Quickly
Unfortunately, a few situations don’t work themselves out on their own, and you will need to step in. If you ignore it, employee disputes can effect the entire workplace and ultimately start impacting your culture. Other employees might also find themselves unintentionally drawn into the conflict. This “employee sideshow” can further disrupt productivity.
So, your best bet is to get to the root of the problem and stop the landslide before it begins.
3| Listen to Both Sides
Eliminate gossip floating around the office and never buy into hearsay. Instead, go directly to the source. Find those directly involved in the incident.
Consider the degree of hostility between the employees when choosing to meet with them together or individually. You may want to ask HR or another manager to join you if there is a lot of hositility. Sometimes another pair of eyes and ears can be helpful. If you are concerned about aggression or backlash, ensure everyone knows they are held accountable for their behavior regardless of their position and tenure. Let everyone know they need to meet established standards or could potentially face disciplinary action.
At the beginning of your conversation, lay down some ground rules and remind both employees that you are there to discuss facts and not emotions. They should not interupt each other. Encourage them to avoid personal attacks, as this will make things worse.
Once each person is done speaking, validate what each said even if you don’t agree with them. Validation allows the person speaking to feel less defensive and will be more open to hearing when others respond to them. For example, “I understand you are upset that you were not listened to during our goal discussion. I can understand how that would be hard to handle after working so hard.” Reiterating their point of view makes it clear to everyone they have been heard. Whether you agree with their point or not, everyone wants to know they are heard and understood.
Last, ask each party to offer their ideas for resolution. Most of the time, employees just want to be heard and contribute to the solution.
Most importantly, whatever you do, never take sides. This will only fan the flames and make the issue worse. As a leader, you should be as objective as possible.
4| Find a Solution
Your employees don’t need to be best friends, but they do need to get the job done. Also, remember that there’s constructive and destructive conflict. Make sure you help employees learn the difference by pointing things out during the conversation. An employee may not realize they are being destructive.
Never rule out the need for organizational changes. Sometimes, if necessary, you can improve employee focus and the workplace dynamic by reorganizing teams, changing your structure, or revise something that you are doing. You may also want to consider giving the conflicting parties time to “cool off” before they work together again.
Keep in mind that if the conflict continues, it could seriously impact productivity and performance. As a leader, that is the last thing that you want to happen. Identify when it’s time to re-evaluate your staff. One antagonistic employee is enough to wreak havoc on the rest.
5| Teach Them How to Communicate
For a few troubled employees, talking out a situation might not be enough. Generally, employees with these types of problems will likely have communication issues. If you find much discord among your staff, perhaps it is time to teach them a few essential communication and problem-solving techniques.
Personality assessments and training might help your employees communicate more effectively as a team. Such courses will also teach them how to articulate their thoughts and emotions in a nonthreatening way. The techniques they learn will help them solve conflicts before they blow up.
6| Document, Document, Document
After the conversation, document it for your records. Remember to document only facts. Do not paraphrase or put words in someone’s mouth. Do not record emotion or behaviors. Anything you document could be called into a court of law. If you believe the incident could eventually result in disciplinary action, provide a copy of the documentation to those involved. Alternatively, you can print it out and ask them to sign it. In the event that the behavior or conflict continues, you may need to reference earlier conversations.
There is No One Way of Managing a Clash
Occasional workplace conflicts are unavoidable. However, you can always manage them with better problem-solving channels and a solution-focused mindset. Remember, there is no foolproof way of managing personality clashes. Each clash comes with a unique backstory. So, it is impossible to develop a single system. By learning how to manage and embrace different personalities, you can easily combat the issue. What’s more, you will get to improve your management and leadership skills with every problem you solve.