Conflict can manifest itself in a variety of forms and to varying degrees, but the causes often include differences between expectations, goals, values and personality styles. When conflict escalates to the point where a supervisor needs to get involved, the situation has often gotten to a critical stage. Within an organization, it is imperative that employees, and especially management, be as proactive and resolute in identifying and resolving these types of issues. If this does not happen, the results can be poor work quality, communication problems, resignations and even lawsuits.
I recently attended a webinar on conflict management strategies where I was reminded about a work situation from many years ago. At the time, there was a major conflict occurring between employees and they had formed two opposing groups. Each side did not get along with the other and they had banded together in an “us vs. them” mentality. Furthermore, the employees involved were resistant to solving any issues and the supervisor, along with other management staff, was well aware of the problem, but chose not to intervene.
When I was promoted to department supervisor, one of my goals was to make the department more cohesive. There were a variety of approaches that I could have taken, but I wanted to know more about my own conflict style, so I received approval to attend a conflict management seminar. I learned that, due to the fact that I look for ways to solve problems in which an optimum result is provided for everyone, my style is that of a “collaborator”. This means that I need to pay close attention to realizing that conflict can be resolved without damaging relationships and, as a manager, it is my responsibility to identify and help resolve employee conflicts.
One of the most important areas that needed improvement within the team was communication. I immediately implemented weekly staff meetings, along with weekly individual meetings. This way, not only did the entire staff hear the same information in a consistent manner, but I also hoped it would give them a sense of togetherness as we had an honest discussion about the pain points in our department. The individual meetings were equally significant, since it not only gave employees an opportunity to privately talk with me about their concerns and goals, but it allowed me time to review what needed improvement, as well as provide positive feedback and realistic suggestions for how they could help decrease the problems.
Some of the conflict was a result of certain tasks that had always been performed by only a handful of staff. There was a perception of power because of this and it had not changed in many years. I took this as an opportunity to cross-train all of the employees in the different job responsibilities. This helped with leveling out the playing field and was also useful for when workers were out due to illness or vacation. When I met with the department, their overall reaction was positive, even from those who had exclusively done these tasks.
Finally, in an effort to clarify rules and procedures, we created a departmental handbook that everyone had a hand in providing feedback on and creating. This helped tremendously since most procedures were never written down and each person had their own way of performing tasks. In many instances, staff had no clue that some co-workers were duplicating and even triplicating certain steps. Each member of the team then signed an agreement to follow these processes while also respecting other employees. Overall, this streamlined the workflow and made many tasks easier, which made them a happier team.
In summary, conflict is going to happen in any organization, but how employees decide to deal with it, along with how management gets involved, is vital to maintaining a productive and positive work environment.
What are your thoughts? Do you have other suggestions or personal stories? What techniques do you use when dealing with conflict? Please feel free to ask questions or share experiences below.
- Can’t We All Just Get Along?
- Conflict Management Styles
- Conflict Management and Emotional Intelligence
Jeremy S. joined Empathia 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 Development. Prior to joining Empathia, he spent 14 years in the EAP industry in a variety of managerial/leadership roles at another behavioral healthcare organization. Jeremy enjoys reading, photography, music and spending time with his wife and daughters.