Conflict in the workplace is never ideal — especially when it’s between two colleagues. Once a conflict erupts among your team, the resolution clock is ticking. The longer it goes on, the more your culture — and ultimately your bottom line — suffers. It not only impacts the people involved, but your team as a whole. How can they be as productive as possible if they’re distracted by a toxic atmosphere and lack of morale?
And while you as a leader are likely not the cause of the dispute, all eyes are on you to handle the situation. If you’re unable to craft an effective resolution, your team will grow frustrated by your lack of action and could even join in — leading to a disconnect and potentially a higher turnover rate.
Of course, not every employee conflict results in a total team breakdown. But if you’re able to handle each issue quickly and effectively, you’ll build trust among your team and give them the confidence that you’re dedicated to creating as positive of a workplace as possible. Use the following four steps to diffuse any conflicts that may arise and boost your workplace morale as a result.
Reduce employee conflict in four steps
Your role as a team leader is to create a space for your employees to have constructive conversations and address the situation in a productive manner. Doing so can feel awkward and confusing if you don’t know where to start, so use this step-by-step guide to kickstart your conflict resolution strategy and maintain a positive, productive work environment.
Step 1: Focus on the impact
Don’t take sides when your team members are disputing with each other, or even assume that it needs to end immediately. Provided that no one is rude or disrespectful, healthy disagreements are natural and can actually result in positive change or bring about new ideas. Instead of focusing on the actual conflict, set your sights on managing how it impacts the workplace.
Step 2: Reinforce a team mentality
When two team members are in a conflict, it’s natural for them to “turn away” from each other. If they’re focused on seeing the other person in a negative light as a result of the disagreement, they’re more likely to disconnect from each other or say whatever’s on their mind — which in turn opens the door for the situation to escalate.
Remind your employees that they’re on the same team, with the same goals. Encourage them to consider how much they value their role and how an effective working relationship impacts the entire team and what you’re trying to accomplish.
By shifting their mindset, you’ll remind them that they’re part of a bigger picture and that the organization’s collective success is relying on them to move forward in a positive direction.
Step 3: Observe their interaction
Understanding how your employees interact with each other is often more important than resolving the issue at hand. Observe their communication — pay attention to how they speak to each other and relate to one another.
This is important because oftentimes people don’t understand how their tone of voice or approach impacts the other person. And once one of the people involved detects any hint of disrespect, they’ll likely lose focus and actually process what someone else is saying — even if it’s an important point. That’s not the best environment for finding a solution that works for everyone.
Step 4: Redirect the conversation
If you determine that you may need to intervene to keep the conversation moving forward, encourage each person to start by stating their intentions. Here’s an example:
“I acknowledge that we’re both struggling with this situation, I’d like to first share my thoughts and then listen to what you think.”
Then suggest that one person speak first while the other listens with intent. Have the speaker provide one or two takeaways, and let the other person know they should hold off on asking questions until the speaker is finished. Then, have them switch roles.
Make sure both parties know that while they don’t have to agree with each other, they should still be open to listening and try to find a connection with the other person’s perspective. Your objective is to guide them through the conversation, help them understand how they’ve contributed to the conflict, and encourage them to acknowledge what went wrong so they can move forward with a positive resolution.
To sum it up
Don’t get caught up in the drama the next time a conflict erupts between your team members. Instead, observe their interaction and help them understand how to have a more impactful conversation through the above tactics.
Addressing negative work interactions in this way empowers your team to break poor communication patterns and regain control. And when you step in to help them resolve their differences and reinforce how valuable they are to the organization, your entire team will feel more respected and confident in your leadership skills — leading to a nice boost in morale.
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