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Do Your Managers Know How to Stop Workplace Conflicts?

Workplace conflict costs time, hurts productivity and can cripple morale. Here's a quick blueprint to help managers deal with these personality clashes early and effectively.

Conflict resolution consultant Diane Adalbert, speaking the the recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference , says one huge key is for managers to intervene in disputes as early as possible.

That means that:

  • Issues can often be resolved through talking - thereby avoiding the hassle of getting into the progressive discipline process
  • Conflicts don't have a chance to fester and grow into major confrontations
  • There's less "ripple effect" on co-workers, and
  • Productivity is less affected.

Two common underlying issues

Identity : Identity issues often represent a difference in values. Example: One worker may value good people skills, while another is solely focused on getting the job done -  no matter whose feelings get hurt along the way.

The conflict arises when the two parties focus only on their differences.

Here's how managers can deal with identity issues.

Through a joint session between the workers and the supervisor,

  • Ask each to identify exactly why the other person's behavior is frustrating
  • Get each to agree that all behaviors, taken too far, can have negative effects: the "too much of a good thing is a bad thing" theory
  • Ask them, "What skill or ability does the other person have that you'd like to develop in yourself - and why?"
  • Stress that both have complementary traits that would serve the team better if they worked together.

Style differences : These conflicts concern the way different employees process information and communicate with others. They include each individual's speed of thought process, attention to detail, and whether they compute information in a verbal manner or internally.

An approach for managers:

  • In one-on-one conversations, supervisors can validate the employee's information processing/communication style while acknowledging that dealing with people with different styles can be difficult
  • In joint sessions, assess both employees' styles and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each, and
  • Illustrate "translating" tactics, so each can recognize what the other is saying without feeling threatened.

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