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Conflicts in the workplace are natural and inevitable, but also downright disruptive. They delay the decision making process, reduce productivity, increase turnover, and decrease overall employee job satisfaction. Many of these issues, however, can be addressed by properly managing these conflicts. To do this, we have to understand what a conflict is.
A conflict is anytime two or more people disagree over an issue or situation. Although the word conflict conjures images of arguments or fighting, a conflict is not inherently good or bad. It just means there is something to be addressed that can many times be resolved with a conversation.
There are many things that can give rise to workplace conflicts but the most common culprits are poor communication skills resulting in misunderstandings, personality conflicts, and simple differences in opinion. Managers can best address these issues by ensuring effective communication, setting a good example, educating their employees on workplace policies, being consistent by holding employees accountable for adherence to those policies, and developing a process for appropriately addressing disruptive behavior.
It is essential for a management team to manage conflict in a positive way by following a five-step process.
Prepare for the conversation
- Find an appropriate location for the conversation. A private or quiet space is going to facilitate a resolution much better than having to worry about other employees or customers eavesdropping or yelling over a crowd.
- Invite the other party to the conversation, or invite both parties if you are acting in the role of a mediator of a conflict between other employees.
- Be clear about your intentions and the goal of the conversation. Everyone should understand that the point is to resolve the issue in a positive fashion.
- Ask for each person’s perspective and allow each person to speak.
- Actively listen.
- Encourage both parties to take responsibility for their role in the conflict, using “I” statements rather than shifting the blame.
- Manage emotions, tempers, and biases.
- Be respectful and polite.
- Discuss one issue at a time. If there is more than one issue to address, circle back to the next issue after resolving the first.
- Encourage the parties to paraphrase what they heard and repeat back to the other person to ensure an understanding of their concerns.
- Pay attention to word choice.
- Managers should assess the severity of the issues to determine if the situation should be elevated to someone else’s attention, i.e. Human Resources.
Agree on a Solution
- Reality test – Is this doable?
- Durability test – Is this durable?
- Interest test – Does this meet all parties’ interests?
- Carefully reconsider the solution if the answer to any of these is no.
Plan Next Steps and Memorialize
- Jointly create a plan of action. Explicitly address what needs to happen, who needs to do what, by when, and what will happen if the problems persist.
- Appropriately document the conflict when warranted. This may simply mean you keep notes in the manager’s log or that the employee receives a formal disciplinary note in their file.
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