It doesn’t matter if you have three staff or 300 on the office floor, internal conflict drains everyone’s emotions and productivity.
When you are dealing with a mix of different personalities, stress and miscommunication, it is inevitable that conflict will occur. This is normal. In many cases, when you can use it to clear the air, it is actually a good thing. What isn’t good is for it to go unnoticed or unresolved. That is when conflict can turn a workplace toxic and slowly start to dismantle your business focus and ultimately your business.
Here is a guide to help you navigate conflict in your team or at your workplace.
The loudest voice isn’t always the right one
The typical scenario — that the loudest, most forceful voice will be heard and followed —isn’t always the case.
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As a leader, you must consider the content, not the delivery. What are people saying, why are they saying it? And if it is said with an audience, that should raise some red flags.
The role fear plays
Most conflict comes from one or more people feeling fearful. This could be fear of change, losing their job, not being heard or simply being found out for something.
Fear is a detrimental force. Individuals may not even know themselves that is how they feel, so it is wise to look at what isn’t being said and take the time to chat with people one-on-one to get to the bottom of the issue.
Remember to be objective. If they feel you are speaking to them as the ‘company’ they may not be open and forthcoming.
Deal with anger effectively
An angry person creates more angry people by association. If someone is angry, they want to express it. If an angry outburst or situation is responded to with sincerity and empathy, it will instantly put an angry person at ease. Defensiveness will only escalate the issue.
Regardless of who is in the wrong or right, if someone feels cornered or unjustly dealt with, they will often respond aggressively.
An empathetic word and genuinely listening ear will automatically put most people at ease and is a true sign of leadership. Then you can address the underlying issue — which is often related to fear, as discussed above.
Firm but fair
Being fair can sometimes be perceived as a weakness, but in fact, it is a sign of leadership. Being firm ensures boundaries are set and standards are kept across the board.
Don’t treat people differently when dealing with conflict. People are watching how you respond to tense or complex situations and will make their judgement accordingly — which is why being firm also requires keeping your own emotions under control.
It often takes years of experience to identify a toxic employee, and you are blessed if you have a business or team without a toxic individual.
If you happen to find someone who is deliberately causing strife, gossiping, lying or another toxic activity, you must implement strategies to halt their behaviour — from performance management to dismissal, if necessary — to prevent them infecting, undermining and ultimately dismantling your team.
Remember, people spend the majority of their waking lives in the workplace and it can get messy at times. But the culture is set from the top down.
If you are at the top, you have a strong influence to set the tone of your team to solve any serious incidences of conflict — and prevent many future ones.