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4 ways leaders can better manage employee conflicts

employee communicationBy Deb LaMere, VP of Employee Engagement, Ceridian

The complicated process of human capital management becomes relatively simple at times when everything in your office is going well. If everyone is living happily and harmoniously, it’s pretty easy to manage a staff.

But what about during times of chaos? What happens when there are heated moments among employees, and tensions run rampant? Suddenly engagement, productivity and retention go out the window. How can you get them back?

I recently spoke with Vivian Giang, writer at Fast Company, about this very subject. I pointed out that often, workplace crises begin with something small, like a miscommunication or a misunderstanding between two co-workers. Unfortunately, little things like this can blow up into bigger catastrophes, and you must be prepared to resolve them.

Every manager should be ready to play the role of peacemaker. When chaos breaks out in the office, bosses need to mediate conflicts and resolve disagreements without showing favoritism to any one employee or another. And the truth is, they’ll probably have to do this pretty often. Work is like life – conflicts happen just about all the time.

Sometimes fires break out, and you’ll need to, as Fast Company’s Vivian Giang puts it, “extinguish flames while keeping everyone calm, collected, and satisfied.”

Giang explains four ways to maintain stability with your staff during moments of crisis:

Turn enemies into allies
Many office conflicts break out because two co-workers’ differences come to a head and they become enemies. Therefore, your first strategy should be to attempt to get the two adversaries on the same page. Help them understand that they’re teammates and they should try to resolve problems together.

Recognize employees’ communication styles
Every employee is unique, and they all have their own styles of communicating. Some are very open with their feelings while others are more reserved. When you understand each other’s communication styles, it goes a long way not only in communication, but also teamwork and partnership.

Listen to both sides well
Every successful conflict mediator is a good listener. And of course, you can’t just listen to the one side of the argument who’s more vocal, even if that may sometimes feel natural – you have to let each side explain his or her case, so as not to play favorites.

Explore other pertinent issues
Sometimes, an argument isn’t really about what it’s ostensibly “about.” People say they’re arguing about one topic, but they really have hidden agendas. Does a conflict-instigating employee have a hidden motive, like backstabbing a co-worker to get a promotion or raise? Dig deep and find out what’s really going on.

Deb LaMere

Deb LaMere is Vice President of Employee Engagement at Ceridian.

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