Get ready HR: You’ll likely have to curb conflict as employees return to work on-site.
Many employees may bring ongoing issues to the office. Nearly two-thirds say they’ve had conflict – and been in trouble for it – while working remotely, according to a Paychex study.
But you can help front-line managers curb conflict, or mitigate it when it inevitably bubbles up.
Here are two expert-driven strategies to handle conflict now and whenever it arises.
Train, practice receptiveness
To prevent conflict, leaders want to practice, preach and teach “conversational receptiveness.” And there’s a good case for it.
“When we appear receptive to listening to and respecting others’ opposing positions, they find our arguments to be more persuasive, our research shows,” says Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.
So when faced with conflict – opposing views on values, tasks or relationships – avoid trying to make others change their minds. Instead, become receptive.
- Recognize the others’ perspectives. Show you’re engaged, even interested, by saying, “I understand that …” or “I believe what you’re saying is ….” Then add, “Thank you because ….” Explain what you understand, proving you listened and want to talk with purpose, not argue.
- Hedge your claims. You don’t need to be overly assertive, or conversely, tentative, with your views. Take the middle road. Avoid soft words, such as “might,” and harsh words, such as “must.” State your view simply.
- Be positive with your argument. For instance, avoid statements such as, “We should not …” or “You can not …” Better: “Let’s consider the benefits of …” or “We might find positive results by considering ….”
- Focus on agreement. In conflict, it’s easier to focus on where we disagree – and become defensive. Instead, find a small, shared value and comment. For instance, “I agree we both want this pandemic to end.”
Step into active conflict
When it comes to existing conflict – an active argument or employee complaint – leaders need to step in.
- Reflect to connect. Remove some intensity and move toward a productive conversation by recognizing emotions without validating or condemning them. Say, “It sounds like you’re frustrated. Do I have that right?”
- Ask three questions. 1) What do you want me to know? 2) How might I help here? 3) Should the three (or more) of us talk privately? The answers will reveal how to move forward – or if you even need to do any more than hear the answers.
- Assess the situation. Dye says the situation usually falls into one of these categories: Venting, misunderstanding, opposing priorities, differing goals, personality conflicts and toxic behavior.
- Pick your solution. If the problem is venting, let it be. For misunderstandings, opposing priorities, differing goals and personality conflicts, you’ll want to talk and work through them. Get HR involved with toxic behavior.
- Schedule the finish. Set up a time in the future when you all can review what happened, how it was resolved and check everyone followed through on commitments and responsibilities.