What is your organization concerned about? Retention? Culture? Engagement? These energized talking points may have validity, but they don’t look deep enough into what may be driving your employees to work hard, perform well, and remain loyal. And, they negate the obvious importance that workplace relations play on teamwork, individual and organizational success.
Unfortunately, while conflict is a natural occurrence, most businesses pay little attention to how their conflict management efforts may be actively setting their employees up for failure instead of for success. Read on to see if you’re making the right efforts…
Top 4 Ways You’re Setting Them Up for Failure
- Waiting / Giving it Time – Without a doubt the most common issue interfering with conflict management is the decision to wait on addressing an issue. This not only discounts the value of the person bringing forward a concern, but it willfully allows the tensions or issues to rise. The inaction very clearly says, “Let’s wait for the problem to get worse before we address it.” In other words, “It isn’t bad enough, yet.” Sure, some issues may self-correct. But, more often than not, this stall tactic allows issues to fester and rise.
- Doubting the Significance of the Issue – Managers, leaders, HR, and other presumed “helpers” are given to interpreting situations and complaints through their own lens. A lens that is open to bias and which taints their perception, thereby yielding a prejudicial response. More to the point, if they doubt the virtue of the complainer or the validity of the complaint, they are likely to feel justified in their dismissal of the problem. This unfortunately common occurrence gives way to additional complaints including favoritism, bias, and prejudice, and it erodes trust in the organizations leaders and “helpers”. As if more needs to be said on why this is a set up for failure, consider the most obvious reason: By doubting the significance of the issue, you prevent the issue from being explored and the damage contained.
- Sleuthing – This by-product of “wait and see” leads complaining employee(s), or possibly a “helper” manager or supervisor, to begin doing “detective” work to secure evidence to prove the complaint is justified. The problem with this behavior isn’t simply that it wastes company time, or that it is underhanded, but that it creates a motive for finding information that supports a claim, and a blind spot for information that refutes it. This confirmation bias adds another layer of difficulty when employees believe they have achieved “proof” of another person’s errant behavior and therefore expect action.
- Investigations – If an employee conflict is significant enough to warrant an investigation, it means that along the way multiple warning signs and complaints have been ignored. Perhaps the cause was a manager who chose to “wait and see”, or an employee who didn’t speak up or take action because s/he didn’t know the process, or maybe the affected employee didn’t trust the organization’s management would deal with the problem appropriately. Regardless of the reason things reached this level, an investigation will fuel tensions as they, by nature, look to find a culprit for any unrest. Investigations are not solution oriented – they are problem driven.
Top 5 Ways to Set Them Up for Success
- Have a Clear Process – Establish and maintain a clear and straightforward policy that attends to conflict management procedures. Educate staff on a regular basis about the process. Provide them with clear direction for how they can resolve their own issues, or get help from managers or HR. Ensure that employees have easy access to these internal solutions and that they are supported in utilizing them.
- Train Managers and Leaders – Make sure supervisors know how to recognize tensions and conflict, as well as hold a basic understanding of how to address issues on their team. Have clear standards for how issues will be managed, communicated, and (as appropriate) documented.
- Talk About Issues Early On – Create a culture of communication, where employees are encouraged to talk about problems early on, and where managers are active in assisting staff in resolving the issues brought to their attention. Hold regular educational seminars that teach all employees strategies for healthy communication, improving workplace relations, and resolving basic conflicts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- Trust Your Staff – Rather than judge the significance of an issue, the virtue of the person making a complaint or the subject of that complaint, instead come from a place of trust. Trust means believing in your team and their good intentions. It means taking the time to learn why something went wrong, not who made the mistake. By engaging in the problem-solving discussion from a place of trust, you can naturally guide the focus into a more positive solution-driven direction.
- Honesty – On the flip side of having trust, is the importance of being honest and straightforward when you can no longer trust a member of the team. If an employee has become untrustworthy, it is important that they know this, and the reasons why the trust has been lost. This allows them an opportunity to explain or improve (if possible), while also notifying them of their precarious position if they do not. An employee that is untrustworthy does not belong in your organization at any time or for any reason. Letting them know is both an appropriate step (and precursor to progressive discipline), as well as a positive action that supports forward momentum for resolving the issue.
If your organization is interested in establishing or enhancing its conflict management planning, or is looking to develop better strategies for communication or conflict resolution, please reach out to us today. We look forward to working with you.