Your staff members don't have to like each other to work together, but they do need to respect and value each other's presence in the workplace. Your job as a manager is to help them establish that respect. If there is a conflict and it is hurting productivity, you need to get involved. If you are direct, good humored, and fair, that is a large part of the solution to ending workplace conflicts.
Here are some tips on helping your employees make peace and work together:
- Lend an ear. Try to smooth out relations between employees who are in conflict by giving them your full attention and letting each person tell you what the issue is as each of them sees it. Don't assume that you know what the problem is. Understand that your workers may be having their own strong emotions about what's happening. Let them talk and feel heard. Just listen and keep your own judgment and reactions out of it.
- Get grounded. Employees who are suffering discord sometimes tend to be vague and use sweeping generalities when attempting to tell you what is going on. For example, they might say, "She has such a bad attitude." But you need descriptions of particular behaviors, because it is only behavior that you can reasonably expect to change. And once specific behaviors can be described and addressed, the discussion can become more grounded and reasonable.
- Acknowledge feelings. A conflict between employees brings out some pretty raw emotions — anger, sadness, fear. As a manager, it means a lot if you express understanding about how difficult and upsetting the situation is. This does not mean that you are advocating an employee’s position in the conflict, but that you are objectively empathetic. By expressing your empathy, you can help diffuse the discord and soothe the situation.
- Keep your eyes on the prize. You may never be able to inspire your conflicted employees to agree on every issue. What they need to focus on is making reasonable alterations in behavior that enable them to work together productively, concentrating on a goal that they're both committed to achieving. Working from that common goal, explain that you've noticed their different styles are really preventing the goal from being achieved. Spend some time listing their differences explicitly, then go down the list and figure out what you really care about and what you don't. Resolve what you can in order to get back on track and move the company forward. If the root conflict vanishes, things should smooth out all around.
- Follow through. Once you’ve gotten beyond the immediate crisis of this employee conflict, make sure you establish a climate of perceived fairness and equity, and make a commitment to bring these workers back together for more conversations. In addition, encourage your staff to get to know one another, respect one another, and understand the priority of one another's projects. This effort is worthwhile, because when conflicts arise, people have a base of mutual respect to fall back on that will help them work through problems.
Often, interpersonal conflicts are actually opportunities for employees to learn more about each other and come together. You can help the employees you manage handle conflict appropriately by being approachable, empathetic, and fair, and in this way improve their performance dramatically. The aid you give will also lower employee turnover and create a better bottom line. In the end, you will have a stronger team that is bound together by a greater understanding of each other.
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