Business owners work hard to make sure there are no conflicts inside their companies. But diverse viewpoints are important for any thriving culture and, as such, conflicts are bound to happen. While some may think it's a business owner's job to make sure they don't happen, it's actually their duty to successfully resolve conflicts when they inevitably occur so the company can grow.
The following suggestions can help business owners and managers create an environment that fosters conflict resolution over discord.
1. Promote open communication.
Consider creating and maintaining an office culture that supports clear, concise, honest, accurate and timely communication that is always delivered in a respectful manner. Trying to delay or hide information—especially bad news—can work against you.
Open communication can make it easier for anyone on the team to talk to management about their concerns. Don't be afraid to call out the tension of “the elephant in the room." In fact, asking for opposing opinions can help resolve a conflict before it even starts.
2. Learn to listen—your employees may tell you what they need to resolve conflicts.
Many business owners are so busy selling their message that they can forget when it is time to listen. An effective way to resolve any conflict is to just listen to the other person's point of view. Remember that being empathetic does not necessarily mean agreement. Most people typically know that there are no easy answers—they are really only looking for a way to express their opinion.
One way to resolve conflicts is to listen to all points of view and ask the parties for their solutions. Understanding the “what's in it for me" factor for each person can help resolve conflicts. Resolutions may have an increased chance of sticking if people come up with them themselves, instead of having them imposed on the party by a manager.
3. Set boundaries for your team.
You can help ensure that the entire team knows what is acceptable behavior and what will not be tolerated inside the company by creating clear, written policies. For instance, set guidelines that there will be no bullying at work and give examples of what this may look like. You can give these guidelines to employees on their first day of work, and make it mandatory for everyone to sign them.
More importantly, these boundaries need to be demonstrated by management. When unacceptable behavior does happen, it needs to be dealt with immediately by managers through a private conversation with all parties involved. During this conversation, discuss how the behavior needs to be changed as well as what consequences will happen if it does not. There can't be any special cases made for star performers or favorites who behave badly. Remember that workplace gossip and jealousy can create a bad environment. Strive to be a culture of forgiveness and compromise as long as it does not impede on basic company principles.
4. Hire effectively.
To resolve conflicts, you can start by hiring the right people for your company from the beginning.
When you hire your next employee, consider searching for a complementary cultural fit (not to be confused with sameness), instead of just skills. Most people can learn through proper training what they need to do their job effectively, but having a good attitude is something that can't be taught. I have used hiring tools like the Harrison Assessments and KAI to find the best match for a particular company culture.
5. Use clear job descriptions.
Team members and their peers need to understand exactly what is expected of them. This makes sure that everyone knows each other's responsibilities and can help prevent certain conflicts from happening (e.g. people getting in each other's way).
6. Have a well-defined chain of command.
It's important for everyone in an organization to know who they can go to help them resolve conflicts. Depending on your company's structure, this can be their immediate manager or the human resources manager.
I advise against having employees skip levels and go right to the top or use other back channel communication. In my experience, back channel communication expands any conflict inside an organization by unnecessarily involving more people than required. But, when this does happen, consider pushing it back down to the defined chain of command without exception. By following the formal management hierarchy, the organization can learn how to deal with conflicts instead of everything rising up to the owner for them to resolve.
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