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Leaders in the workplace have to wear several hats and perform a lot of procedural and cultural functions. Maybe one of the most critical, as well as the most difficult to master, is conflict resolution. You won’t like hearing this, but every leader’s approach to this will, and must, be different.
There are no two identical matches between team and leader anyplace in the world. That means your mileage might vary when it comes to following these conflict tips for leaders. However, we bet there’s something here that might help you think differently, or maybe just a little more empathetically, next time it falls to you to diffuse workplace tension or manage a conflict. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Don’t: Create False Harmony by Ignoring Tension
There can be a strong temptation, among people in positions of power, to strive for the appearance of harmony at the expense of all else. Maybe it’s a middle-manager who wants the CEO to see all’s well. Maybe you just don’t like confrontation.
However, part of being a leader is working potential confrontations to your advantage. There’s no value in stifling differences of opinion or brushing problems under the table — or even ignoring them altogether. Refusing to meet workplace conflicts head-on, and patiently — or being ambivalent or playing favorites by not taking one of the parties seriously — is a quick way to sour the tone and trustworthiness of your workplace. If people don’t feel they can be candid with you about their conflicts and disagreements, and expect a patient ear in return, they’ll stop trying.
Do: Know the Right Time to Step In
For quite a few reasons, timing can be everything when it comes to resolving conflicts in the workplace. Maybe you’ve heard two co-workers arguing about something trivial. Maybe they’re even butting heads over the current trajectory of a project they’re both working on. Knowing the right time to step in, if any, is critical here.
At the risk of not sounding very helpful, this is something every leader will have to “read the room” for. You know your people. If you let them sit in the trenches a little longer, will they work it out and become stronger for it? Is an earlier intervention better? Don’t base the timing of your intervention on the content of the conflict, but rather the tone. Leaders need to be able to detect even the nuances of the emotions involved in workplace conflicts, because what’s not being said is often just as important as what is. Moreover, it’s vital to remain in control of your own emotions. Timing, tone of voice and a patient disposition are your friends.
There’s another wrinkle for leaders when it comes to intervening in potential conflicts, and it’s about culture clashes as well as more overt wrongdoing.
As a leader, there might be times when some employees seem to march to a different drum or do things differently than you’d like, to the point where you’re thinking about intervening. Maybe they have a nuanced workflow or they require a modified schedule. In this case, stepping in means creating conflict where none might necessarily exist. Have these conflicts of culture resulted in poor productivity or compromised work quality? If not, this is a time for compromise rather than conflict management.
In grimmer cases of leadership intervention, the right time to step in means waiting for unassailable proof of wrongdoing or a seriously poor match, culture-wise. Be responsible with your due diligence, since leveling a false accusation is bad for your reputation as a leader and unpleasant for everybody involved.
Do: Check Your Own Insecurities at the Door
Workplace conflict isn’t something that happens around or beneath workplace leaders — they’re sometimes in the thick of it, and possibly the target of the conflict in the first place. The first rule is not to panic.
For any type of leader, resolving conflicts can be difficult when they involve you in some way — and there’s no easy to way recuse yourself. The best thing you can do — and this is something your employees and team members will likely remember and take away with them — is to check your insecurities at the door. If you’re a leader, it means you have blind spots. If somebody brings a concern to you, one hopes they do so in a patient, private manner. Even if they don’t, it’s your responsibility to listen to them openly and either diffuse their concerns or make some changes.
There’s no room in the modern workplace, or anywhere else, for stubborn pride. If everybody was a little more confidently vulnerable, there’d be no stopping us.
Do: Help People Reach Their Full Potential
At the end of the day, being a leader is, maybe more than anything else, about helping people reach their full potential — in this role or in whatever the next challenge is that awaits them. We all like to say that making mistakes is part of what helps us grow, which means conflict resolution is a chance to help people see another side to their thinking. Even the phrase “conflict resolution” itself sounds like a confrontation, but with the right frame of mind, and maybe an open heart, it doesn’t have to be one.
January 1, 2019 at 09:10AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs