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Being part of the workforce means we’ve all been witness to different environments, with many different interactions happening within them. With so many people working together, exchanging information and interacting on different levels, there’s bound to be moments of tension.
As leaders navigating these conversations and conflicts, it’s understandable you’d want to find ways out of the situation. Whether that’s slapping a band-aid solution on the deeper problem, or letting your employees figure it out solo, that’s not going to make the issue go away, and may lose you loyalty from your team in the process.
When it comes to navigating conflict in the workplace, the approach taken by leadership matters a great deal. The most important part of addressing a conflict is taking time to consider it seriously. When there’s a conflict large enough to affect one or more of your team’s workdays, their performance, or their attitude while at work, that is good reason to focus on their concerns. What may seem like a non-issue to you could be extremely upsetting to someone else and understanding that difference is essential to treating the conflict with respect.
Ignoring the situation, while it may feel like you’re doing nothing about the problem, is still doing something. Choosing inaction when members of your organization are feeling stressed, uncomfortable, or even unsafe, shows the people you’re leading that you either support those behaviours or don’t care that they’re happening in your work environment.
Leadership is responsible for creating and maintaining a space that people are happy, comfortable, and free to be themselves within. When conflict enters the space (which is inevitable, and has positive potential!), the balance of a comfortable space to work and innovate is altered. It is up to leadership to address this imbalance and bring it back to baseline. Inaction can look to others like you can’t deal with conflict and might make even those who aren’t involved look poorly upon how you’re dealing with it (or not).
While fixing the problem is essential for us as leaders, we can’t be the ONLY fix for the conflict. Creating a space to have constructive discussions, acting as a moderator, offering opportunities for change or clarity around communication are all great roles for leadership to play while addressing conflict, but the best solutions come from the people involved. Leaders should be looking for opportunities to create conversation that promotes growth and ideas around moving forward, working together, providing support, and asking questions along the way to make sure the best solution is reached.
A key thing to remember is to proceed with curiosity, not judgment. When we look at conflict in a judging manner, it can cast a negative light onto innocent behaviours and make situations appear even worse. Leaders dealing with conflict between their people need to listen respectfully to all sides of the tension-filled stories and follow up with creating understanding between the conflicting parties. By approaching the interaction with a desire to understand, leaders can de-escalate some of the tension and encourage those involved to take a similar approach!
Modeling behaviour is a great strategy to employ when mediating conflict, and the curiosity approach helps open conflicting parties up to a more constructive dialogue. Keep in mind the resources you have available to you as well. If you’re feeling in over your head with a conflict on your team, reach out to your fellow leaders! Learning from others is always a positive move, and who knows, they may have dealt with something very similar and have a great way to manage this conflict.
Going forward, it would be a smart move to integrate soft skills like communication and collaboration into your team’s training regimen, regardless of level within the company. Learning skills like this is essential for every person within an organization, including yourself!
Take opportunities to build your own soft skills so, as a leader, you can model these behaviours with your team, and teach them how to interact with the best results going forward. Remember that as leaders, even though we are responsible for creating the space conflict resolution happens within, the effort to solve it always involves discussion between the people involved in the conflict. Adopting a positive attitude toward conflict, and approaching the situation with curiosity and genuine care, will lead to a more open dialogue that is ready to solve the problem rather than cast blame. Finding the best in the people you lead and the situation you’re handling will demonstrate your capability as a leader and create an environment where conflict doesn’t have to have a bad ending!
Photo by Zinkevych on Freepik