Our workplace is a place where ideas come together along with hard-working people, trying to make them a reality. Brainstorming, tight schedules and many other work-related obstacles can lead to a heated working environment. And that is a good thing, up to a point. Conflict is good as long it is a productive one. Now that might be counter intuitive, but let’s think about it for a moment. If we have conflict in the workplace that means there are multiple ideas presented as a solution to a business endeavor. That is great! That means we have put together a team that consists of complementary people. Imagine having a team where everyone thinks the same. Now, that is not an ideal situation.
So, let us go over the steps we need to make in order to keep all conflicts brief and productive.
1. Embracing conflict
As we mentioned in the introduction, this is arguably the most important concept to grasp. Many businesses make the mistake of avoiding internal conflicts at all costs for some make-believe idea of a perfect working environment. Others avoid or pretend nothing has happened when a conflict arises. In that case, as time goes on, tensions will only continually build since nothing has been resolved. The remedy is in dealing with these issues, the sooner the better, while they are still benign. Benign in a sense that bad feelings and problems have still not become embedded in everyday work. Encouraging people to resolve their conflicts in a productive and safe manner is paramount.
2. Searching for the root
People make mistakes, no matter how experienced, dedicated or professional they are. It is the inevitability of life and any good enterprise has enough headroom to compensate for smaller oversights. Concentrating on an individual’s mistake can be a tricky business. The point is not to do it with the sole purpose of placing blame. Instead, the goal should be in identifying the point in the process, or a system where the mistake was made. Was the employee in question provided with all the necessary information without the loss of context when switching hands? Basically, it comes down to focusing on the process itself instead of throwing someone under the bus. This approach will prevent future mistakes and will keep your team confident even when mistakes happen.
It might seem obvious, but having space, open channels and the company culture to address conflicts is a must. It sounds a lot easier than it is, actually. Having these requirements met before conflicts start to arise increase the chance that they will end in everyone’s favor. Unobstructed ways for feedback amongst peers (or vertically, employee to superior) are essential for a smooth, functioning business. If an employee feels powerless, it can lead to issues. They may be discouraged to press the issue to their peers or even managers. This way no action will be taken until the situation reaches a boiling point and the person in question leaves. If all of this seems complicated, that is because it can be.
A common practice for alleviating these concerns are reputable workplace mediators in Sydney, in particular. A lot of employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback but may need a small nudge in the right direction. Even with all of these measures in place, not everyone will have the initiative to take charge. Providing paths for resolution and ultimately relying on employees themselves to solve their own conflicts, leads to healthy communication.
4. Focusing on behavior, not character
What we want to isolate are specific, particular behaviors that do not agree with the company or business. If we focus on the personality and character of an individual, it will quickly create a toxic and inappropriate atmosphere. Focusing on these traits, when the person might not even realize he or she has one, does not help anyone. It does not provide us with anything actionable on which to act upon in the future. Concrete examples of unwanted behavior need to be provided so that we can analyze and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion. Failure to do so will result in assumptions that the person is aware of the problematic behavior. But this is most often not the case, usually, everyone wants to get along and keep the business going.
As our teams grow and evolve, they will also change. People will come and go and the environment will become increasingly turbulent. Even more the reason for a work environment with a cool, clear-minded, and calculated approach to solving conflicts. A collaborative problem-solving approach with a goal-oriented focus is what any serious business is to strive for. We should create an environment where everyone can have their say in it. By following these tips, you can create a healthy working culture where listening, and speaking is encouraged.
By Audrey Taylor
who worked in a couple of marketing agencies across Australia and residing in Adelaide.