Business is a machine filled with moving parts, and physics dictates some of that energy will be released as heat. In the workplace, where the cogs and wheels have egos and homes to go to, friction can sometimes manifest itself as resentment and anger. The toll of unresolved conflict at work is reflected in lower productivity, a drying up in initiative and avoidable departures.
Follow these steps to nip problems in the bud before a more damaging rot sets in.
1. Use your eyes
Interpersonal issues are often clearly telegraphed if you allow yourself to observe the crew with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, and that’s because you see these people every day. Stand back and imagine you’ve just walked into the room. You’ll soon be able to pick the ones who bond and the ones who are repelled like the poles of two magnets. You don’t have to be a Hollywood casting agent to pick up on pained body language.
2. Use your ears
Now listen to the room. How are your workers communicating? (Or
3. The imbalance of power
Remember you’re the boss, and that means there’s a power difference. You won’t get far in letting pressure out of a destructive interpersonal situation if you appear to them as judge, jury and executioner. So be empathetic. You are dealing with adult human beings in a situation very much like a family, where employees can feel vulnerable (like the children in a family). The best parents don’t impose ideals; they guide and encourage. At the same time, go over the consequences if a person’s behaviour won’t change. Sometimes a worker is already resolved to move on and may not even be listening.
4. Think forward
It is most important to reach agreement with the aggrieved parties on a future ideal. The past has been discussed and put to one side, now we can all agree on the best way to move on. How do we want to work now? What can we do differently to meet that goal? Does anyone need to make allowances? Watch the resentment drop away as the plans for a better workplace are drawn up.
5. Set a standard
It’s important that acceptable behaviour is clearly defined in a workplace. Once the boundaries are established, make sure that you operate within them. Lead by example. If your staff have seen you blow a fuse and say a few regretful things, they might have come to see that as a benchmark. Don’t let them think conflict is acceptable.