Four Tips To Prevent and Handle Workplace Conflict

argument fight public domainOne out of five people working in every office is a pain. Look around. If the next four people you see are great folks, it could be you.

Okay, I made up that statistic and if you’re reading my tips, there’s a good chance you care about your workplace and you’re probably not the source of conflict. However, even among otherwise amiable people, conflicts arise. It’s part of life.

In fact, when people’s livelihoods and the future of their careers are on the line, it adds pressures that can push us into places where we would otherwise never go. In other words, sometimes when things get tough, it brings out the worst in people. We have all said things in the heat of the moment that we regretted later.

But as a small business owner you are probably very aware of the fact that few things can ruin productivity and potential for growth as much as workplace conflict. Not only is it in your best interest to keep it under control for the sake of your peace of mind, you need to keep it under control to guard your profitability. These tips should help you maintain smooth sailing.

Be a people person. I’m not saying that you have to be a social butterfly; I’m saying that you need to be a student of people so the early signs of conflict get onto your radar screen.

Sometimes small business owners can be so enthralled by their vision and the “inner workings” of their business that they lose touch with the human side. It’s just a fact that many small business owners have to be a one-person human resources department.

When you hire new people, ask about their interpersonal skills. Discuss the subject during the interview and with previous employers/references.

Be a teacher. Let your employees know how you value a respectful work environment. If you have any faults you know about – and who doesn’t? – bring them out into the open. I remember a manager of a fairly large operation once tell his crew, “It may seem like I have a fence around me, but it’s only six inches tall – anyone can jump over it.” He was encouraging dialog with his employees.

Tell your team that they should not expect to enjoy working with everyone equally. Some people’s personalities make them a natural “fit” with one another while others are more of an “acquired taste.” I know one man who just talks a little on the loud side and until people get to know him, they mistake it for anger.

Be clear about your expectations. Let your team know that you do not appreciate office gossip or other bad behavior, such as bullying. Tell them that you expect their relationships to be founded on the advancement of your business and that cooperation is required for that to happen, even when they are working with people who aren’t their best water cooler buddies.

Let them know that it’s the customer’s perception that trumps everything. When a customer gets the feeling that two employees are at odds with one another, it undermines the credibility of the business as a whole.

Tell your employees that you expect them to iron out small differences in an honest, respectful and timely manner. If they come to an impasse, they may bring the problem to their immediate supervisor and up the line, if necessary.

Be proactive. My first tip was to be a “people person” and my last tip assumes that you have these skills. Don’t let problems fester. If no one is working toward a resolution, there won’t be one. Talk to the employees involved and let them know how concerned you are and that these kinds of situations cannot be tolerated.

Ultimately your employees need to know that you will replace people if they cannot work past their differences on the job. They must understand just how seriously you take your responsibility for providing a positive work environment for all employees.

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