One of the most difficult things to deal with as a manager is conflict management. No matter how great of a corporate culture you create or how good of a role model you are, there will always be situations that require you to deal with emotional stress within the ranks. Personal conflicts, outside pressures, personality issues and job-related stress occur in any workplace setting.
When I first started out as a manager, I was excited about working with my team. The thought that there would be conflict not only between co-workers, but also between myself and some of my employees did not occur to me. When the team started having unresolved issues with one another, I honestly wanted to just ignore it and hope that it would go away by itself. When this didn’t happen, I started doing research on conflict management. I ran across some information on emotional intelligence that was very interesting.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate the emotions of yourself, others and groups. When used in conflict management, there is a three-step formula. The formula does not attempt to solve the problem, but is geared toward addressing and neutralizing the emotions so that the problem can then be approached in a more objective and effective manner.
- Acknowledge: More than anything, people want their feelings acknowledged. This may seem overly simple, but saying something like, “I want you to know that I understand you must be feeling really stressed right now”, can lower the emotional stakes considerably. Bear in mind, this doesn’t concede agreement with the emotional state, it only shows empathy.
- Positively substitute: There really is great power in a positive outlook. I believe that any negative situation can be re-framed in a positive light. If we add on to the statement in the first step, you could say, “I know that you’re a great employee and that you want to do the very best job possible”. If you want to move toward resolution, it’s crucial to begin replacing the negative with the positive.
- Suggest, re-acknowledge and appreciate: There may be situations that are outside a manager’s control. In these situations, suggest ways you may be able to help, acknowledge the emotions involved and offer appreciation for the employee. For example, “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try to see if there is a way to lighten your load. I understand you’re feeling stressed and I want you to know that I really appreciate your efforts.”
I realize that going down the “emotionally intelligent” road may seem too feelings-based to some managers, but I assure you that using these suggestions and having an attitude of genuinely wanting to help your team members resolve their conflicts instead of controlling, yelling, threatening or manipulating them, works to not only cultivate a better work environment, but also creates a sense of loyalty within the team. Employees begin to realize you really care about them and they work even harder to maintain your respect. Once I learned this important lesson, I could deal with conflict resolution in a positive manner and it wasn’t as scary as it first appeared to be.
If you’re looking to assess and improve your current workplace culture, Empathia has an excellent program called Culture1st.
What techniques do you use when dealing with conflict? Do you agree with the ideas above? What has worked (or not worked) for you?
Jeremy joined Empathia (then NEAS) in 2007 as Manager, Client Care Services, then became an Account Manager/Sales Consultant in 2012. He is also a certified wellness and tobacco cessation coach. Jeremy has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Organizational Management. Prior to joining Empathia, he spent 14 years in the EAP industry in a variety of roles with another behavioral healthcare organization. Jeremy enjoys reading, photography, music, and spending time with his wife and daughters.