How To Resolve Employee Conflicts

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How To Resolve Employee Conflicts

As a leader of your team, you’ll be in situations to resolve conflicts between your team members.

Conflicts are inevitable and are not always bad. They can be the source of changes, can lead to innovative solutions and can prevent group thinking. These bring to the surface differences of opinions, differences in how people think, differences in values, competitions, or conflictual interests etc.

And also, they can produce stress, can lead to bad decisions when the most powerful people impose themselves even when they don’t have the best solutions, can create  stressful work environments, and can generate lack of trust, lack of collaboration and sabotages between employees.

Conflicts appear between people, or departments, between which exist some forms of interdependences. This means that one part’s actions affects the good of the other part. If the parties are not dependent they may have disagreements but they are not in conflict.

Example of situations when conflicts may occur

Between the sales department and the production department can be a conflict. The sales people depend on production to deliver on time the products that their clients need, and the production department depend on the sales people to receive orders. If the people from production don’t finish the products on time for delivering, the salespeople can loose clients. On the other hand, if the salespeople don’t succeed to make sales, the people from production will not have what to do. 

Or, in the same department, a person who has to do the payroll may depend on a colleague to pass on to him the timesheets. If this colleague sends the timesheets late, the person who makes the payroll has to hurry to finish on time. Or, if the timesheets have mistakes, the salaries will be wrong and additional work has to be done to fix the issues, if these mistakes are identified and when they are identified.

When one person obstructs another person from doing his/her work. A person may constantly approach a colleague to discuss about his personal problems, interrupting him from work and causing him stress. He has urgent tasks to do and in this conditions he is not sure that he will finish on time. I think that all of us gone through such a situation. Or a person is asking questions and ask for help repeatedly, retaining another employee from his own work.

When role boundaries are crossed. When an employee acts as the superior of another employee, although they are equal in status or don’t have a subordinate relationship. They may have a common task at some point and because of this attitude the other person is not open to collaborate or support the other person.

This last situation is related to another situation that can trigger conflicts – unclear roles and unclear tasks. When the members of a project team don’t know who is coordinating the project and the tasks distribution is not clear, they may compete for the leading role and for different tasks of that project.

When two people want the same thing, for example,  the same projects, or the same promotion. In this case is not necessary an interdependence between the people involved, but rather one person limits other person’s chances to get what he/she wants.

Although solving conflicts it’s a hard job sometimes, if it’s managed well will help you create a safe space for your employees and will bring you their trust and respect. Furthermore, often, conflicts can show you where are the weak parts in the working processes or practices.

How can you approach conflicts between employees?

1.

Listen to both parties involved

Listen to both parties involved separately first. This will help them to discuss about the problem with less emotions. Just the fact that they are listened with the intention to be understood, and not judge or criticized, will reduce their stress.

2.

Identify what is the source of the conflict. Why they are in conflict?

Let’s take a case study:

One employee, let’s say John, depends on a new IT employee, Mark, to solve some errors in the program he is using. John is upset because Mark didn’t solve the errors even though he was patience and gave Mark time to figure out  the issues and to fix them. Mark said that he will look to see where the problem is but time pass and John doesn’t hear anything from Mark. He discuss again the problem, verbally and in writing, explaining how important is this issue to be solved and asking to be solved. Mark reassure John that he will see how he can fix the problem, but time pass again and the issue is still not solved. John writes to Mark again but his answers are coming very late, after reminders, and are confusing.

This causes delays in John’s work and affects other employees too. On one side, John is pressed to do his work according to a schedule that everyone expect to be respected, and on the other side, Mark doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation or doesn’t seem to care.

The reality could be that the new employee doesn’t know to solve the problem and doesn’t want to admit this. Instead of saying that he doesn’t know to solve the issue, he tries to solve the problem himself creating a lot of problems to others.

Furthermore, the problem could be that the former employee, who had the job before, didn’t explained to Mark the program, so he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t know whom to ask for help.

Furthermore, the former employee could have been in the situation that he didn’t had time to explain in details the program to Mark, because he was hired just a few days before he left. Or, worse, nobody asked him to do that.

3.

Identify what are the needs and interests behind the conflict. Clarify how does each side wants things to be and why.

In the example above, the new employees’ needs could be that he wants to make a good impression and prove that he is good in his work. Because of that, he doesn’t want to admit that he doesn’t know to solve the problem. He may also prioritize other things since maintenance of that program is not his main job activity. 

John’s needs and interest could be that he wants to make his job in time, according with the scheduled required from him, so the errors to be fixed as quickly as possible.

4.

Help them to see when they rationalize their behaviour. When they find false excuses or justifications for their behaviours.

For example, John might say  ’’ Well, yes, I was a little harsh with Mark because I lost my patience. He made me wait for such a long time, he doesn’t give me clear answers and he doesn’t seems to understand the urgency of this situation.’’ In this case, John doesn’t take responsibility for his behaviour, for him losing his temper with Mark. He justify it. Is not his fault so he doesn’t need to change his behaviour, or to repair it.

Mark could say – ’’ I didn’t answer John’s emails because I didn’t have an answer for him. I would announced him as soon as I would solved the problem.’’   

You could help Mark to understand the other person’s perspective. John was pressured by deadlines and he wanted to solve the problem as quickly as possible. He kept asking questions about the status of the problem because it was an important and urgent issue.

5.

Help them to distinguish between facts and interpretations or opinions

Sometimes conflicts can be caused by a misinterpretation of a person’s behaviour.

In this case study, it wasn’t that Mark didn’t care to solve the problem, but he didn’t know how. If he would have admitted this from the start, their time and energy could have been saved and directed to other solutions.

6.

Find solutions that responds to their needs and interests

The solutions to this conflict could be:

To change John’s deadlines related to the tasks that depend on the program that doesn’t work, so he doesn’t feel pressured.

Ensure him that you understand that is not his fault that the program doesn’t work and that he didn’t respected the deadlines. 

Explain him what will happen next to solve the problem. For example, Mark will discuss with the former employee tomorrow to fix the issue.

Ask John to better control his temper in the future. No matter how wrong a person behaves, we are in control of our respose.

Explain him that Mark doesn’t know to solve the problem. He did tried to solve it but he didn’t succeeded it. And that he will get some help to communicate better in the future.

Support the new employee to get in contact with the former employee and fix the issue together.

Explain to Mark that he has to answer to e-mails.

A clarifying answer would have been that in which:

  • He explains that he tried to solve the issue, that he spent ”x” time doing that
  • That he didn’t succeed to fix the errors.
  • That he’ll do ”y action” by 2 p.m. next day, and then he’ll get back with an answer / OR that he needs help but doesn’t know who to ask and he’ll discuss today with his supervisor to ask for advice / OR that he needs permission to discuss with the former employee and that he’ll ask for it today, and get back with an answer until tomorrow morning, 11:00 a.m.

Explain to Mark that he has to prioritize better his activities. When there are urgent things, he has to respond faster and to focus on solving the urgent things. If he doesn’t succeed to solve them on his own, he has to ask for help from his supervisor.

Explain to Mark that how he communicates with his colleagues and how he organize his work are important skills that are assessed on every employee. 

7.

Take action to prevent future similar conflicts

This situation shows that some parts of the company’s processes and practices can be improved. 

The company could introduce rules about how an employee who is leaving the company has to hand over his activity. Thus, the company will avoid situations where critical information is unknown by the person who replaces him/her.

The company can create integration programs for all new employees and support them to get familiar with the internal rules and expectations. Someone should have stepped in to help Mark to solve the situation from the beginning.

Introduce communications rules. For example, an employee has to respond in 24 hours to another employee’s emails, and in 4 hours if there are urgent situations.

Reconsider the hiring process and see if a part of the mistake was there. Was the hiring process good?  Were the selection criteria relevant? Was selected the right person for the job?

Key Points:

1. In which situations conflicts can occur between employees.
2. What can you do to manage employee conflicts.
3. How you can use employee conflicts to improve the company’s processes and practices.

Let me know what are your thoughts about employee conflicts and how can I help you with them, at daniela.tancau@improvework.ro

If you are interested to learn about how you can improve your employees’ motivation I can help you through my online program, named: How To Motivate Your Employees So They Care For Your Business And Help You Grow It.

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Go to the bottom of this page and you’ll find a box about this program. If you have questions you can always schedule a short call with me. You’ll find the details to schedule this call on linked page from the box.

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