Conflict is never an easy thing to deal so it’s no surprise that most people either try to ignore it and hope it goes away, or attempt a direct confrontation, which often makes it worse. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for managers:
DON’T: When you know about a conflict, don’t look the other way.
DO: A conflict is a red flag. It tells you to stay alert and pay attention to what is really going on. If you have first-hand information you’ll be in a better position to coach the people involved. Using third-party information is risky and can make a bad situation worse (“So and so said that you were…”).
DON’T get into the role of parenting. It’s tempting to step into a conflict between two parties who are complaining about each other. Too often managers think that they should quickly respond to a complaint about a fellow employee by rushing off to correct the wayward employee’s behavior. Of course the confronted employee feels betrayed and becomes defensive because another employee has “tattled” on him or her instead of trying to work it out first.
DO: It’s important to encourage employees to take responsibility for working out their own conflicts. But often, you’ll need to help them figure out how:
- Listen carefully to the person’s complaint.
- Ask them what they have done so far to remedy the situation.
- Redirect the complainer back to the person and coach him or her on what to say and how to say it.
- Ask the person to report back to you on how it went, so you can offer more supportive coaching, if needed.
DON’T assume it’s just a personality conflict.
DO: Look for the core causes. One way to get at the real issue is to ask the person to explain the problem and then ask, “How does this affect your work?” Another way to peel away the layers of emotion is to ask “why” five times. By the fifth question, you’re usually at the heart of the matter.
DON’T try to solve an interpersonal conflict between a few people in front of the whole group. If you attempt to force a group to confront someone or hope to use group pressure to get someone to change, you are playing with fire. It is likely to blow up and become worse, adding insult to the original injury.
DO: Deal with the individuals privately and coach each of them to work with each other before stepping in. Don’t talk about the conflict with other employees.
DON’T think that telling a group of complaining employees to “stop” or “get along” is going to actually make the problem go away. They may stop telling you, but you can be sure that it will go underground and probably blow up later.
DO: Confront a chronic complainer who is constantly stirring up rumors, gossip and generally bad mouthing others. Managers tend to shy away from dealing with this type of problem employee because they do so much damage when they’re cornered. They’re also fearful that their behavior may not be directly performance related and therefore off limits to be discussed legally. On the contrary, if their behavior is ruining team morale, affecting the level of cooperation or doing anything that is affecting the customer, you have good reason to deal with it.