Between project delays, technological glitches, and good old-fashioned human error, problems are bound to arise in the workplace. Sometimes, those problems will manifest themselves as conflicts between employees.
Businesses can't afford to have poor conflict resolution practices. On a bad day, a small matter can make a big dent in productivity. One word, phrase, or action can set someone off.
How can leaders and managers work toward effective conflict management? Providing the right feedback in the right way can help:
Appreciate Employees' Differences
Your team is made of a variety of people. Each of these people have their own ways of learning, communicating, and carrying out their tasks. All of these idiosyncrasies are potential sources of conflict.
The thing is, workplace conflict can be a blessing in disguise, if you approach it from the right angle. When employees butt heads, leaders can take it as a learning opportunity. Conflicts tell you more about how your employees operate and what works best for them. You can use this information to better inform how you interact with each employee.
Once you have a better understanding of how each employee behaves at work, you can take a constructive approach to managing conflict. Use your knowledge of employees' unique differences to inform your conflict management tactics. For example: "I know you both work better when leading projects. Let's divide the project into sections so each of you can own your own pieces and assign supporting tasks to each other if necessary."
When disputes arise, it's important to intervene quickly. Timing matters! Address issues as soon as you are aware of them. Remember that, as a leader, you have to remain unbiased when managing conflicts. Recognize each side of the problem to come down to a fair conclusion that works for everyone.
Stop Conflict Before It Starts
Don't wait for workplace conflict to happen. Instead, use ongoing employee feedback to stop conflicts before they have a chance to start. The more you push off communicating with your team, the more opportunities conflict will have to start.
You can't predict the future, but you can touch base with employees on a regular basis to get a feel for how things are going. When you do these check-ins, ask each employee if everything is running smoothly. Encourage them to discuss any challenges they're facing.
Not only will regular check-ins help you keep tabs on potential conflict, but it will also invite you into every side of a problem. Maybe one employee will say, "Yep! Everything's going great. We're breezing through it," but another will say, "I'm getting a little burnt out from working overtime on this project."
This is where leadership can step in without pointing fingers: Change up the process, reassign tasks, and realign the project's parameters based on the feedback received from all employees.
Set aside one hour every week to touch base with department heads for progress updates. Make these meetings non-negotiable, make them quick, and send reminders to yourself and everyone involved.
Lean on Your Values
It is important to maintain professionalism when dealing with workplace conflict. The goal is to address an issue before it gets out of hand, defuse the situation quickly, and come to a conclusion everyone can agree on. Bring employees back to home base by reminding them of company values. Remind them why they're passionate about their work and what the company stands for.
Include a company value with each bit of employee feedback you provide. This will help set the tone for workplace behavior and communication, keeping employees aware of the company's expectations. This can go a long way in preventing conflicts.
Workplace conflicts will bubble up every now and then, but as long as you institute weekly feedback, realign based on observed patterns, and suggest new directions, such disputes will never derail your team. In fact, they could become learning opportunities that help improve the team's quality of work and overall productivity.
A version of this article originally appeared on the iRevü blog.
Michael Heller is the CEO and founder of iRevü.