Unicorns don’t exist. Neither do organisations where teams work in complete harmony and agreement 24/7. Even the best workplaces deal with conflicts and the clash of different ideas.
In our experience working with leaders and teams, we’ve found a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line is the root cause of most conflicts. Mixed messages, vague requests, lack of follow through and poor listening skills all lead to tension.
Not respecting other people’s ideas and views is also a problem in the workplace; collaboration and innovation stalls when team members can’t share their own perspectives. We’ve put together tips for leaders and teams to successfully navigate workplace conflict.
Seek first to understand
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”
Steven Covey – The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
Disagreements surface when people don’t take the time to try and understand each other’s point of view or respect that they are entitled to one. When we’re too busy trying to get our own point across we don’t listen properly.
It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything, or anything, your teammate says but respectfully acknowledge their position and seek to understand where they’re coming from. This is a much better starting point for resolving the issue than shouting them down or disregarding their opinion.
Handled right, differing ideas and opinions can lead to out of the box problem solving and innovation.
Tip: Give your colleague your full attention while they express their point of view. Don’t interrupt, practice active listening – avoid planning out a response in your mind while they’re still speaking. Once they’ve shared their idea or point of view, take a breath, gather your thoughts and present yours.
Find some common ground
You might disagree with your colleague’s suggestion of a new sales approach to reach monthly targets but search for some common ground. Showing your willingness to find something to agree on helps strengthen relationships that might otherwise be strained if one party feels all their ideas are continually shut down.
Tip: While you think the sales tactics themselves won’t hit the monthly targets, maybe you liked your colleague’s idea on the types of incentives to offer the sales team. Let them know.
Check your emotions
We’ve all been in ‘those’ situations before. How we handle our negative emotions at work is often seen as a measure of our professionalism. Small workplace conflicts can blow up quickly when one or both parties respond emotionally. Show your colleagues the same respect you’d like to be shown and if they’re rude and emotional, you don’t need to respond in the same way. Stay gracious and assertive.
Tip: Always clarify the situation before reacting, it could be a case of a simple misunderstanding. This is especially important when it comes to email, tones and intents can easily be misread. Don’t fire off an angry email reply immediately, wait a few hours or even a day before responding and try to seek clarification in person or with a phone call.
Communication, conflict and idea sharing for leaders
Leaders set the tone
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to set the tone for your team and handle conflict resolutions in the most productive way. If you aren’t respectful, calm and honest with your team during times of conflict you can’t expect them to show these behaviours in return. Set the example to show it is possible to turn conflicting opinions into a positive outcome, or at least some positive aspects rather than all negative!
Tip: Most employees don’t believe they’ll get everything they ask for, in many cases, they just want to be heard. Do your best to listen, remove emotion and get through to the real root of the problem, you may find some common ground. Sometimes it’s a win/win outcome, but sometimes it’s not as simple as that if compromising isn’t really the best way forward for the organisation.
Address conflict quickly and openly
Avoidance isn’t part of a healthy conflict resolution plan. Deal with uncomfortable issues or tension as quickly as possible to avoid negativity, resentment, and frustration seeping in on a permanent basis. This kind of toxicity can quickly embed itself into a workplace culture.
Tip: Schedule a time to talk together. If the conflict is between a few different individuals, give each the chance to have their say on what they feel the other needs to hear. Ask them to share any solutions or ideas they have to solve the issue. Ask each for their feedback on the other’s proposal and don’t let one party hijack the entire discussion.
Provide a forum your team to share
Create an opportunity for everyone to share their ideas, whether it be on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. It’s a great opportunity to hear from your team members who may not usually speak up and let them know their voice is being heard. Give each person his or her time to take the floor and encourage discussion around each idea. Keep more dominant employees in check by not allowing them to steamroll discussions.
Tip: These forums will be more beneficial with structure rather than an idea free-for-all. Set a theme for the discussion, for example, brainstorming ways to enhance the client on-boarding experience and keep discussions on track. You can even choose 3-4 themes and have the team vote on the one they’d like to discuss.
Ease up your vice-like grip on control
Have you ever admitting to being a control freak, but with a hint of pride in your voice? You feel you have such incredibly high standards that you just can’t trust others to uphold them.
A controlling mindset can damage professional relationships and your work will actually suffer in the long run. Rigid thinking closes you off to new ideas, you’ll miss valuable insights from your team members on how to improve current processes and efficiency.
Tip: Delegate one smaller project or task to a team member and let them take full control. Take a deep breath and let them run with it – see what ideas they come up with and how they manage the project. Make a conscious effort to be open-minded rather than critical about the direction they take.
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
When handled right, occasional conflict is a good thing. It can foster an innovative and empowered team who aren’t afraid to collaborate, speak their minds and put new ideas into the ring.
Communication and Conflict will equip your team with practical strategies and tools to increase communication and manage conflict in the workplace. The result? Increased self-awareness, collaboration, and higher performance!