No one likes it when team members bicker, but leaders report spending much of their time dealing with this very issue. The challenge is how they deal with it makes a big difference. What do employees in conflict need from their leader and does it matter if the conflict is small, large, minor, or critical? Today’s Monday Moment addresses what employees need in five key areas and also mentions what they need least, which may well surprise you.
It can be very tempting, particularly for the lesser experienced leader, to ignore conflict among team members. It can be tempting, but is worse even than being a part of the argument. Address the fact that there is an issue among employees and let them both know that you are aware. Ignoring it, passively believing it will go away on its own is usually far worse than whatever began or is provoking the challenge or conflicting opinions.
While it is appropriate for the leader to let all parties involved, know he or she is aware of the conflict, it is even more critical and of paramount importance to remain neutral. Taking sides in an employee conflict has no place when a leader is in the midst of managing employee conflict. Empathize with both parties. Listen to both (or more) parties. Involve all parties in the solution. The leader facilitates solution implementation, but is not the judge and jury of emotions.
The level of detail needed may well depend on the type of conflict. From small to large matters, leaders must gather all information available from both sides of the issue and all parties involved in the conflict. If working with a particularly slippery team member who seems to take pride in working the system in some way, this detail usually includes dates, time, time stamps and undeniable, able to be proven, facts.
If the gathering of detail and assessment of the situation, results in the need for the leader to deliver bad news, deliver it swiftly and directly. This is different than being ugly and is much more about not letting pain or hurt feelings linger longer than necessary. If no bad news is needed and merely consequences or changes are to be implemented, a succinct and clearly direct set of instructions also prevents future confusion on what is expected from these team members.
Conflict mitigation among team members is not a one and done sort of event. It is important to keep track of and look for signs of even the smallest hint of backtracking or repeated behavior. Sometimes leadership is tedious and in the case of employee conflict, it may well need to be. Track how each party improves, maintains their boundaries and follows the directions you’ve laid out. Don’t just hope things will work out, lead the effort to ensure that is the case.
Employees in conflict are often left to work things out by themselves. This is what they need the least. Leaders are perceived as being too busy, disinterested, or even ill equipped to deal with any level of conflict without the leaders themselves getting sucked in to the situation. Lead conflict much as you would lead a new customer to make a buying decision and overcome their objections. In the case of employees, the difference is you want them to buy the concept of working well together and another alternative is often not an option.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.