Dealing with conflict in the workplace

September 21st, 2017

People want leadership roles for a variety of reasons, but the opportunity to manage conflicts is rarely at the top of anyone’s list. It’s a skill that many have a hard time mastering — and let’s face it, avoiding conflict tends to be the first inclination for most of us.
Workplace conflicts can emerge in any number of forms, but there are some general, garden-variety types that I see on a repeated basis: conflicts with the boss, conflicts with peers and conflicts among a manager’s direct reports or teammates.

In all of these cases, leaders need to consider two basic questions. How important is the issue? And, how important is this relationship? Your answers will determine whether to let it slide or try to resolve it. Let’s explore each type.

Conflict with the boss

I have encountered a lot of people who have conflicts with those in more senior positions, sometimes because their boss isn’t doing enough to support the team or is doing too much micromanaging.

The relationship with your boss is obviously important for getting work done and for getting ahead. As a result, you should invest the time needed to resolve the conflict. The key question then becomes: What’s my role in the conflict, and what can I do to improve the situation?

While it’s easy (and maybe legitimate) to blame your boss, this unfortunately isn’t the most productive option. If you actually want things to get better, you’ll need a different approach. Schedule a conversation or a lunch so you can understand your boss’s goals and motivations, express your concerns and explore ways to work better together. Getting insight into your boss’s reasoning and outlook may spark ideas about new techniques for handling the situation.

Plus, the conversation will send a clear signal that you’re interested in building a better bond and resolving the tension that exists. Finally, make it clear that you are quite willing to carry out any directions being given (assuming they are not immoral or unethical), but that you would first like to suggest a better way that can be helpful.

Conflict with a peer

In today’s working world, very little happens in isolation. You inevitably rely on others to get things done. For better and worse, however, we don’t all operate in the same ways and so conflict is inevitable.

One of the best strategies I’ve heard for resolving conflicts with a peer comes from Solly Thomas, a coach in some of the Partnership for Public Service’s leadership programs. Thomas, a former government executive, suggests identifying a colleague who has an effective working relationship with the peer who is giving you problems.

Make clear to the other colleague that your goal is to resolve the conflict and get work done, then tap into his or her knowledge of the other person for tips in getting along. Try out the advice, and perhaps also tactfully attempt to break the tension by talking with your colleague about possible middle ground.

Conflicts among direct reports or teammates

Leaders at nearly every level have been the uncomfortable witnesses to conflicts among teammates. Your choices are basically to look away or jump into the fray.

If the conflict is with people you supervise, and you know they are not going to react well, avoiding the conflict is tempting but ineffective. One of my colleagues recounted a situation in a former office when — after spending too much time avoiding a confrontation with a subordinate who had a history of causing disruption — he decided to have the difficult conversation with her. He made sure to focus solely on the job-related behaviors and not infer motivation. Still, she became irate and cursed at him before storming out of his office. However, the next day she gave him a letter of resignation. Conflict resolved.

As a leader, you want to allow for a certain amount of creative tension, but the moment that conflict becomes counterproductive, you need to act. While the issues that cause conflict vary in importance, your relationships to teammates and the relationships among teammates must be functional if you hope to have a productive environment.

One option is to sit down with employees – separately or together – and make your work-related outcomes and behavioral expectations clear. Then, treat the employees as adults and ask them to resolve their differences. Let them know they will be held accountable if they don’t.

Article by, Tom Fox

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

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How To Handle A Difficult Boss

September 15th, 2017

difficult bossIt’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted, frustrated and wondering why you put up with your difficult boss. Understanding why some people become more difficult or negative, and when they are more likely to act that way, can prevent you from obsessing about your difficult boss to the exclusion of all the others who were quite pleasant and appreciated your work. By reflecting on your role in these difficult interactions, you will be in a better position to learn strategies to head off and/or counteract the stressful effects of these encounters.

So why are some bosses difficult?

The answers may lie in different areas, some related to the environment or sources of stress and some related to the “payoff” of using certain behaviours. Occasionally, the person who ‘pushes-our-buttons’ may be our boss. Bosses can face a variety of special challenges and sources of stress throughout the day that may increase their difficult reactions. According to the Executive Challenges Survey, by Axmith and Adamson, leaders face increased challenges associated with attracting and keeping talented staff, managing constant uncertainty, handling the bombardment of information from various levels, and maintaining a strong financial performance.

Often we cannot change these sources of stress for our leaders, so, can we stop their negative attitudes and difficult behaviours from rearing their ugly heads? Unfortunately, the answer is no – not always — but we can control how we respond and desist from (inadvertently) rewarding behaviours that shouldn’t be encouraged.

The main premise to work from is that difficult people use negative behaviour to get what they want. It has decreased their stress before and they are counting on it to work for them again.

Our goal is to stop rewarding these irritating and negative behaviours.

To do this, we must understand not only what people are going through but also what they expect to gain from being so difficult. Some want to feel more in control. Some want to feel important and listened to, and some want to avoid outright conflict, but will act out their annoyance or disagreement through other negative behaviours.

Our role is to find alternate ways of meeting their needs for control, importance or safety.

In addition to appreciating their sources of stress, developing insight as to what reward there may be in using particular behaviours and finding alternate ways of meeting these needs, here are:

5 quick tips that may also be helpful when dealing with a difficult boss

1. Learn and understand your leader’s supervisory style – sometimes conflict occurs due to differences in styles of supervising and styles of needing to be managed

2. Clearly communicate your intentions, projects or workload – often we assume that our leader should intuitively ‘know’

3. Provide only the facts and if possible offer solutions

4. Plan ahead for negative comments or questions

5. Consciously provide positive information and reinforce your leader’s positive behaviours

Working with a difficult or negative leader can lead to burnout and take us away from a job/project that we may really enjoy. When the issue that we are working on is important, it is up to us to try and find alternate ways of working together to ensure that we are successful. Having a thorough understanding of the sources of stress for that leader along with understanding their typical reaction to these stressors can go a long way to decreasing our own personal stress.


Building Resiliency Through Stress and Wellness Strategies. Stress and resiliency strategist, Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP, translates current research and best practices information into a realistic, accessible and more practical approach through her dynamic stress and wellness workshops, on-line stress and resiliency articles, books, e-briefs and media interviews.

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How to Deal With Employees Who Don’t Get Along

September 7th, 2017

Blame it on personality, lifestyle or other factors, but sometimes employees just don’t mesh. And friction in the ranks can make your office feel like a war zone.

The tension can make the workplace uncomfortable for other employees and have a dramatic effect on productivity.

But, conflict between two employees isn’t always a bad thing. It can lead to healthy competition, process improvements, innovation or creativity.

Here are some tips to help you tactfully put out fires between feuding employees.

Step 1. Encourage employees to work it out

Remember you’re their manager, not their mother. Use your judgment when it comes to addressing employee complaints. Managers should want their employees to be as self-sufficient as possible. Encourage your employees to manage their issues on their own. By reacting to every whine from a worker you may actually make the situation worse by feeding into the drama. This might be perceived as favoritism and turn other employees against you.

To do this successfully, first determine whether the situation is emotionally charged and the severity of the conflict. When you’ve assessed the issue, if appropriate, talk to each employee individually to let them know that you’re aware of the situation. You should also encourage open communication and resolution among employees. Ask them if they feel comfortable going to the other employee and handling it one-on-one.

Understand that many people don’t like confrontation, so they may need guidance or talking points on how to approach the other person. Hold them accountable for their actions and for resolving the issue.

Step 2. Nip it in the bud quickly

Unfortunately, some situations won’t work themselves out and you’ll be forced to step in. Like a bad sore, if ignored too long, employee disputes can fester and infect the entire workplace and ultimately taint the reputation of your company. Workplace disputes that aren’t addressed eventually end up sucking other employees into the drama. This “employee sideshow” can further derail productivity. Get to the root of the problem and stop the landslide before it starts.

Step 3. Listen to both sides

By the time you get involved, your office may already be buzzing with gossip. Don’t assume you know the situation based on the whispers you’ve heard around the office. First, deal with the two individuals or group of people who are directly involved in the incident and worry about refocusing other staff members later. Sit the feuding employees down and ask each to explain their side of the story.

Some experts recommend this be done individually, while others believe you should discuss the problem with both at the same time. But before you do that, be sure to evaluate the degree of hostility between them. This way you can be sure you’re create an environment where you can discuss facts, not emotions.

If you determine that speaking to the employees at the same time is the best course of action, provide each employee uninterrupted time to give their (fact-based) side of the story. Once all employees have had this opportunity, ask each of them to offer ideas on how the situation could be resolved and how all parties could move forward.

As a manager, you need to be as objective as possible. You never, ever want to take sides. This will only fan the flames and make matters worse.

Step 4. Identify the real issue

Often the cause of an argument between a group of employees can get clouded by the all the emotions that surround it. Try to get each employee to articulate the issue in a calm way. Ask them what they want to see as an outcome. Like a doctor, treating the symptoms only puts a Band-Aid over the issue. To avoid future flare ups, you need to get to the source. Only then, will you be able to come up with a permanent solution.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this or you don’t think you can be impartial, you may want to consider hiring a third-party mediator to handle the situation.

Step 5. Consult your employee handbook

Deciphering right from wrong may mean reviewing your company’s policy. Employee handbooks are designed to lay down consistent rules that each employee is expected to uphold at all times. Some examples policies that you may want to add into your employee handbook are “guidelines for appropriate conduct” and/or “conflict resolution policies.” More severe instances of conflict may move into the category of harassment or discrimination, so your handbook should also contain these policies as well as directions on how to file a complaint.

In order to offer a fair resolution, you’ll need to make sure your decision is aligned with company policy. No employee should be above the laws set forth in the workplace. Letting an employee slide when they’ve clearly gone against the rules will weaken your authority and cause resentment in the ranks.

Step 6. Find a solution

Employers need to get employees focused on the job at hand. Employees don’t have to be best friends; they just need to get the job done. That might require reorganizing teams or giving the employees time to “cool off” before they work together again. And remember, you have a business to run. If the conflicts continue, they could seriously affect productivity. And in some cases you may need to reevaluate your staff. One antagonistic employee can wreak havoc on the rest.

Step 7. Write it up

Employees may not like it, but it’s important that you document all workplace incidents. This will help you monitor behavior over time and keep an eye out for repeat offenders that may be polluting your office. Documenting incidents can also protect your business should a disgruntled employee try to take you to court. Always write down details from each run-in an employee has had. Ensure that your write-up is fact-based and that you keep a copy in all involved employees’ files. Include the who, what, when, where and how as well as the resolution to which all parties agreed and committed.

Step 8. Teach them how to talk

For some troubled employees, talking out a situation isn’t enough. Typically, people who have these problems have communication issues already. If you’re experiencing a lot of strife among your staff, you may want to provide communication and problem solving training. These courses teach employees how to effectively articulate their thoughts and emotions in a nonthreatening way. The techniques they learn will help them diffuse conflicts before they blow up.

Step 9. Lead by example

Much of your company culture is based on how everyone interacts with one another. A culture of respectful communication is a “top down” proposition. Business owners, directors, managers and other supervisors set the tone for interaction in the workplace.

By speaking to your employees in an honest and respectful manner, you create an environment that values integrity and communication. When you are open and honest, employees are more likely to do the same.

Looking for more tips on how to positively influence your team as a leader? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.


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