When a conflict erupts among your employees, everyone loses. The longer the conflict is allowed to continue, the greater the impact on your culture and bottom line. Those directly involved in the disagreement are less focused and productive, the overall atmosphere in the office becomes strained, and morale quickly declines.
Those not involved in the conflict will become frustrated at your inability to handle the situation effectively and join in the disagreement or take sides, thus extending it to include more people and creating even greater potential for a toxic environment. Over time, your team disconnects from their work and one another. Eventually, the reduced productivity and overall hostile work environment lead to higher turnover.
While this might sound like an extreme example, it doesn't take much for negative energy to pick up speed and spread throughout a department, team, or entire organization if it is not handled swiftly and effectively.
Four steps to effectively reduce conflict among your employees
As a leader, your role is to guide your employees toward having constructive conversations so they can address their disagreements in a healthy and productive way. If you're not sure where to start, you are not alone. (That is why I developed the Relationship Protocol communication model.) For most of us, good communication is a skill we must learn as adults because it was not modeled for us. Here is a step-by-step guide to quickly and effectively reduce conflict among your employees so you can maintain a calm, productive, and healthy workplace:
1. Shift YOUR mindset. It's not about the argument
When employees are engaged in a conflict, don't take sides or assume that the dispute must be brought to an end immediately. Employees don't always have to agree with each other. Healthy disagreement should be expected and even encouraged, provided those involved are not rude or disrespectful. It's not the disagreement that is the problem, but its impact on the workplace that must be managed. When channeled correctly, differing opinions can bring about positive change and new ideas.
2. Shift THEIR mindset. Remind both parties that they are on the same team
When conflicts occur, it's common to metaphorically "turn away" from the other person. We all do it. We see the other person through a negative lens, focusing on what's missing, what's wrong, or the other person's flaws. This perspective then guides how we relate to them. People disconnect from each other while "turned away," and they give themselves a green light to say whatever is on their mind.
Encourage your employees to get along, and help them shift their thinking so they "turn toward" each other and create a better working relationship. Remind the individuals that they are on the same team. Ask them to think about how much they value their position at the company and how important it is for them to work well together. This shift in their thinking brings the bigger picture into play as it reminds them that they are a part of the larger organization.
3. Notice how they are speaking to each other, because often that matters most
When your employees are in conflict, observe their interaction and listen to how they talk to one another. How your employees relate and speak to each other is often more important than the topic at hand. Understanding how they interact is key to helping them resolve the conflict and move forward.
Many people don't realize the impact their tone of voice or approach can have on other people. If one person feels attacked, they probably won't pay attention to what the other person is saying, even if they make an important point. Instead, they will likely focus on themselves and their reaction to how the other person was speaking to them. When a person believes they have been disrespected or are scared or uncomfortable, it's almost impossible for them to hear and process what someone else is saying.
4. Show them how to navigate the conversation
Once it is clear that you need to intervene, suggest that each person start the conversation stating their intentions. For example: "This situation is hard for both of us. I'd like to share my thoughts on this project, and then I'd like to hear what you think." Next, recommend that one person speak first while asking the other to listen with curiosity and interest. Also, have them plan to offer one or two main points or takeaways for the other person. Let the person listening know that they can ask questions once the speaker is finished. Then have the employees switch roles.
Remind both parties that they don't have to agree with one another, but they do have to be respectful and open to listening to what the other person has to say, and they should try to connect with the other person's experience. Also, help them understand how they have contributed to the disagreement. If one has been rude or disrespectful, encourage them to acknowledge what took place and apologize where appropriate -- then they can move forward and attempt to have a better working relationship. Your role is to guide them through the dialogue and focus on creating a positive resolution.
The next time an argument between employees breaks out in your office, don't get caught up in the drama. Instead, observe how your employees are interacting with each other and then teach them these practical ways to have a more effective conversation.
When you address the negativity between two employees, you empower them to regain control, boost their confidence, and break poor communication patterns within your organization. Helping employees resolve their differences, even if you sometimes have to serve as an arbiter, makes your entire team feel respected and valued. And when employees know they are valued by you and connected to the larger organization, that becomes a direct morale booster, too.
When you help your team learn how to engage in healthy conflict, everyone wins. Employee loyalty increases, productivity soars, and morale improves. Your employees will also see you in a true leadership role, as someone who steps up to guide difficult interactions in a direct, supportive, and helpful way.
The truth is that business is all about relationships, and how you manage those relationships -- internally, between staff members, and externally, between your staff and vendors or clients -- makes all the difference. It lays the groundwork for your organization to flourish.