Workplace conflict emerges within any organization sooner or later, whether it's between employees or between employees and managers. The cause can vary considerably, stemming from poor communication, social and cultural differences, or ineffective management. Whether your organization welcomes conflict as a means of forcing honest dialogue or tries to nip any kind of disagreement in the bud, one thing is for sure -- if left unresolved, conflict can escalate and become a real problem for your organization.
These six entrepreneurs discuss the different ways a good leader can get in front of conflict before it spirals out of control -- potentially leading to a loss in team productivity and cooperation, higher stress levels and more employee turnover.
Understand what causes the conflict.
Before you can solve the situation at hand, the key is getting to the root of the conflict. That's why Jeremy Gave, practice lead with The Metiss Group, has systems in place to understand the cause.
"We utilize a suite of behavioral, workplace motivator and personal skill assessments for all of our team members and new hires. Understanding why someone is motivated or has conflict is important, and this will be demonstrated through their behaviors," Gave says. "When we compare our team's profiles, we are able to see where conflict will arise and how to handle it."
Analyze and move on.
To maintain a healthy work environment, don't dwell on conflict, learn to address situations quickly and move on. Adam Wright, president and CEO of Associated Graphics (AGI), says, "I am on the front lines with all of my employees and know them on a personal level, so I can always sense when there is a conflict. When I see something going on, I quickly analyze the situation and nip it in the bud as soon as possible by speaking with each person and then holding a group meeting to hash it out."
Wright uses conflict as a teaching moment for employees to learn and move on: "It's my policy to not look out of the rearview mirror and dwell on the past."
Give feedback early and often.
"Feedback itself is often too negative. Managers rarely give feedback unless something is wrong," says Justin Cooke, founder and CMO of Empire Flippers. This all too common practice does not foster healthy work relationships and typically causes employees to put their guards up.
"You should be giving feedback every week with your directs, and 90% of it should be positive," he says. "This makes it a normal thing that your directs can expect to happen every week, and makes mentioning negative feedback less of a big deal. They'll be more willing to correct it instead of getting defensive."
Treat everyone fairly.
Avoiding conflict by ensuring all employees are treated fairly can also be quite a challenge, "as one man's justice is another's injustice." Alfredo Atanacio, co-founder of Uassist.ME, experienced this firsthand when his business was trying to find ways to keep its employees' payments balanced.
"Some of them are more specialized than others in different areas, and they demanded a salary increase," Atanacio explains. To address the situation, "we agreed that we'd pay them a special bonus for their work, but they would keep the same salary as their coworkers."
Focus on culture fit.
But can workplace conflict be avoided completely? Angela Pan, founder and CEO of Ashley Chloe Inc., seems to think so, provided you have a solid hiring process and transparent policies in place.
"Workplace conflict can be mitigated or avoided completely if you put emphasis on choosing employees that fit in with your company culture during the hiring process. Personality fit should be evaluated first, then skill and knowledge," she says. Establishing a positive company culture and having an open-door policy that encourages communication without repercussions will all but eliminate serious workplace conflict.
Find common ground.
No matter how at odds employees may seem, "there is always common ground between people," says Colbey Pfund, co-founder of LFNT Distribution. "When my employees have an issue in the office, I insist they find that common ground. It gives them something to connect over."
Using this approach, Pfund's organization was able to successfully resolve conflict between two team members who disagreed on work ethic: "We found something they could bond over and it was incredible how quickly they became like siblings -- sometimes frustrated, but always tolerant."