Savvy business owners often think about the future of the company, zeroing in on strategic decisions that could pave a profitable and successful road forward. But the future of your company can also rely on how you resolve conflicts in the workplace.
Regardless of whether you’re confronted with a business disagreement or one that’s personal, political, or emotional in nature, here’s a look at six conflict resolution strategies that can peacefully and constructively settle disputes, nurture your company’s culture, and keep your staff on task.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Effective conflict resolution can begin even before conflicts arise. Good leaders make their expectations clear and establish standards of success. If your employees know what you want, they’re likely going to have an easier time delivering it to you, thus reducing potential for conflict.
You can clearly delineate responsibilities, ideally with definable benchmarks you and your employees can use to measure progress. You can leave room for questions at the forefront so there's clarity to move forward.
2. Involve All Parties in Conflict Resolution
Not all conflict is bad: sometimes it can lead to growth, creativity, and innovation – especially if the parties involved are invested in resolving it.
Instead of dictating outcomes, exceptional leaders can be facilitators who involve every relevant party in the conflict resolution process, encouraging them to collaborate to find a path forward. This approach can help ensure solutions will address core issues holistically. If employees are given the opportunity to help solve a problem, they may be more likely to work harder toward resolution. Working together can also foster more trust among teams.
3. Focus on Common Goals
Is the sales department advocating for aggressive promotions to capture a larger market share within the quarter, but the production team worries about maintaining delivery timelines? On the surface, it might appear as though these goals are at odds. But part of helping employees resolve their differences can lie in encouraging them to focus on the goals and values they share. In this case, the common goal is to contribute to business success by becoming a market leader in their segment.
By centering discussions around the shared objective of market leadership, the conversation can shift from competing priorities to collaborative strategies: How can this team capture a larger market share and simultaneously uphold their brand promise?
A leader who seeks conflict resolution might ask employees to articulate their goals, both within their respective departments and for the company as a whole. By grounding staff in specific, shared objectives, you can encourage a more constructive, future-focused, and solution-oriented approach to conflict resolution.
"By grounding staff in specific, shared objectives, you can encourage a more constructive, future-focused, and solution-oriented approach to conflict resolution."
4. Look Ahead
As a leader, it can be essential to rise above emotionally-charged situations and prioritize what’s best for your company and your employees.
Even when your leadership skills are being tested, you can remind yourself (and encourage your staff to remember) the goal is to resolve the conflict constructively. This can mean focusing on solutions that not only address the current issue, but also lay the foundation for preventing similar conflicts in the future. While it can be wise to resolve the issue quickly, maintaining a longer-term view can benefit future productivity and inspire workplace harmony.
5. Follow Up With Your Team
It can be common for everyone in a workplace to breathe a sigh of relief when a tense period ends. Though you can focus on positive takeaways and forging ahead, it can also be helpful to follow up on past workplace conflicts to help foster growth and understanding.
Gauging the current morale of your staff and assessing the state of team dynamics can be a helpful foot forward. This can be done by closely observing employee interactions and actively seeking feedback to ensure there are no lingering resentments.
If the conflict resolution process called for altering behaviors or setting certain goals, you can circle back to make sure those conditions are being met by all parties involved. Proactive leadership often resonates with employees, reinforcing their trust in you and fostering a sense of security that can lead to a more productive working relationship. Employees often want to know you “have their back” and that their concerns are acknowledged and addressed.
6. Keep Communication Lines Open
Effective leadership can go beyond making important business decisions – it can involve fostering an environment where staff members are comfortable with engaging in open, positive, and productive discussions. It can be vital to equip yourself and your employees with the tools and strategies needed to promote transparent communication, whether through one-on-one meetings, regular team meetings, or feedback forms. If your employees feel communication lines are open, they can feel empowered to discuss issues as they begin to arise and lessen the chances of conflict festering.
It’s also important to make sure information flows in all directions. For example, feedback forms won’t be nearly as useful if management doesn’t take the time to carefully review responses and transparently act on the feedback. In other words, leadership is about actively listening to employee concerns and suggestions and encouraging healthy team and interdepartmental discussions. By doing so, you can not only prevent workplace conflict, but build trust and camaraderie by reinforcing that employees' voices truly matter.
Conflict can be good for a company. When you have employees arguing about the best way to accomplish a task, that may mean they’re heavily invested in seeing your business succeed. Conversely, unresolved conflict can linger, breed resentment, and seriously degrade productivity. Future-proofing your business and your leadership skills can start with developing your conflict resolution abilities.
A version of this article was originally published on August 16, 2019.