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Struggling with employee conflict?
Have two employees that seem to be in constant odds with each other? The worst thing you can do is ignore it and hope it’ll go away. Employee conflict not only causes everyone involved stress, it costs your organization money in terms of lost productivity and reduced work quality. The longer you let it go on for, the more money it will cost. Nip it in the bud early by addressing it directly.
The roots of employee conflict.
Notice how you have some employees that always seem to have conflict, and others that you never have to worry about? It all comes down to work style. Some work styles are comfortable with challenging one another, and others avoid it like the plague. Roughly 50% of the employees on any team are going to have a work style that is prone to be questioning, skeptical, and frankly a bit stubborn. It’s hard for them to see the world in any way other than what they’ve decided it is.
The problem is that there is no such thing as an objective reality. Reality is subjective based on our past experiences, our innate preferences and tendencies, and even the mood we’re in that day. We can always change our perspectives in regard to whatever situation is in front of us at any given time. Whether or not people are willing to do that is separate issue!
Most of the tough, ongoing conflict I see in organizations stems not from a conflict in personalities necessarily – it’s from people who are from this 50% in your organization being too much alike and butting heads! Each person has grasped on to their personal perspective, isn’t willing to let it go and see a different perspective, and is more than comfortable challenging the other person….and with that, your employee conflict is born.
What to do about employee conflict.
There’s no quick fix to solving employee conflict. If you’re embarking on the task, here are some things to keep in mind:
Use a third party, if you can.
When two employees who are warring back and forth, the worst people to address it is their boss or the human resources representative. Why? In order to solve the conflict, the employees involved are going to need a space to be vulnerable and very few people are comfortable being vulnerable with HR or their boss. This is where someone with no skin in the game can be really helpful. Yes, a third party may require an investment but it’s small compared to what the conflict is going to cost you if it’s not solved.
Talk about feelings.
Our actions are driven by our emotions, and it’s important to acknowledge that – you can’t logic your way out of conflict because it’s not a logical process to be having it in the first place. Drill down further and you’ll find the root tends to be around feeling a lack of respect or a lack of empowerment. Find out what’s happened to get each person to feel disrespected or unempowered and you’ll find out what needs to be fixed.
It’s all personal.
A very smart person once told me the following: It’s not about you perceive yourself. It’s not about how the other person perceives you. It’s about how you THINK the other person perceives you. When we have conflicts with others, it might start as something really small but it sparks a negative feeling and now every time you see that person, you think they’re mad at you or out to get you. That may or may not be true, but you’re going to behave towards that person as though it is! Thus a small thing becomes a huge flame. Get them to change their perception and you can get them to act differently.
Think, speak, do.
The way to get people to change their behavior in almost any situation is to get them to think something, then get them to speak it, and finally get them to take action. Solving employee conflict is no different. First, you need to get them to think about a reality where the conflict doesn’t exist – what does having a good working relationship with this person look like? Your next step is getting them to say it out loud. Your last step is getting them to act on it – how would they act if the relationships was good? Then just do it!
Check in often.
Particularly if the conflict has been festering for a while, it’s going to take more than one conversation to fix it. You’re looking at a minimum of 30 days and that’s if you’re really lucky because you need to get each person behaving consistently well towards each other for 30 days with no major incidents. Why that timeframe? That’s how long it takes to rewire the brain and embed the new reality of a positive working relationship. While that’s being created, any major blowup will set you back. It usually takes a few rounds of this back and forth before you get on the permanent path in the right direction.
Think this is a lot? It is! But again, this is a business investment – your organization is losing money while this is going on, and if someone quits because of the conflict, the amount lost from it will hit at least five (if not six!) figures. You’re making an investment either way – you’re either investing in perpetuating the problem, or you’re investing in fixing it. Which seems like the better choice?
Struggling with employee conflict?
I can help. Reach out and we’ll find time to chat about specifics. I’ll ask you a few questions about your team members and we’ll develop a plan to proactively get everyone back on the right track.