Managing Team Conflict

A professor once pointed out to me in a class that the problem with people is that they are human. Humans make mistakes. Humans make bad decisions. Humans are flawed. What does this mean to you? Well, having lots of these humans around will create workplace conflict at some point. Probably sooner rather than later. Managing conflict is often the most difficult task for a new manager.

What’s A Manager To Do?

Your job is to enable your team to work as efficiently and productively as possible. Very likely that will entail heading off these conflicts early.The employees in conflict will bicker and snipe at each other when they come in contact. Otherwise they will tend to avoid each other rather than confronting the issue head on. And if you are walking on eggshells around certain employees, then you are not doing your job.

Two co-workers arguing.

Meet With The Participants

Meet privately with one of the upset parties to get their side of the story. Make it clear to them that you’ll be doing the same with their counterpart. Then you’ll share what each person said with the other person so that everyone knows all the issues involved. Then meet with both of them together.

Set the ground rules first. There is to be complete honesty in the meeting. They should get everything off of their chest since this is their chance to do so. There is to be no attacking and no defending. You are all there to resolve this conflict and being constructive is the only way to do that.

Real Communication

Encourage them to talk to each other, rather than talking through you. And don’t let them get bogged down in "I did this…" and "You did that…" type of arugments. Focus on perception and feelings. It doesn’t really matter who did what, but that someone’s feelings got hurt, or they felt slighted. Perception is all that matters. Communication is the only way to work through it.

Once the meeting is concluded, make it clear to them that they need not leave as friends, but absolutely must act in a professional manner and be able to work together productively. Additionally, inform them that if their relationship impacts negatively on their work in the future, formal write ups or some form of progressive discipline will be in order.

Conflict management is something that every new manager needs to know how to implement.