Workplace conflict costs time, hurts productivity and can cripple morale. Here’s a quick blueprint to help managers deal with these personality clashes early and effectively.
Conflict resolution consultant Diane Adalbert, speaking the the recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in Las Vegas, says one huge key is for managers to intervene in disputes as early as possible.
That means that:
- Issues can often be resolved through talking — thereby avoiding the hassle of getting into the progressive discipline process
- Conflicts don’t have a chance to fester and grow into major confrontations
- There’s less “ripple effect” on co-workers, and
- Productivity is less affected.
Two common underlying issues
Identity: Identity issues often represent a difference in values, Adalbert says. Example: One worker may value good people skills, while another is solely focused on getting the job done — no matter whose feelings get hurt along the way.
The conflict arises when the two parties focus only on their differences.
Here’s how managers can deal with identity issues.
Through a joint session between the workers and the supervisor,
- Ask each to identify exactly why the other person’s behavior is frustrating
- Get each to agree that all behaviors, taken too far, can have negative effects: the “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” theory
- Ask them, “What skill or ability does the other person have that you’d like to develop in yourself — and why?”
- Stress that both have complementary traits that would serve the team better if they worked together.
Style differences: These conflicts concern the way different employees process information and communicate with others, according to Adalbert. They include each individual’s speed of thought process, attention to detail, and whether they compute information in a verbal manner or internally.
An approach for managers:
- In one-on-one conversations, supervisors can validate the employee’s information processing/communication style while acknowledging that dealing with people with different styles can be difficult
- In joint sessions, assess both employees’ styles and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each, and
- Illustrate “translating” tactics, so each can recognize what the other is saying without feeling threatened.
Adalbert is head of Adalbert Conflict Consulting. To visit her website, go here.