When you work with the same people on a regular basis there are bound to be disagreements and conflicts. With a small business, those conflicts can be intensified. You are generally working in a smaller space, with a smaller budget, and smaller margins. Add it all up and it usually means there’s also less room for error.
Close proximity and stress create an environment ripe for conflict. How do you, as a manager or owner, work to manage conflicts in the workplace and keep everyone on the same page? Here are some tips.
Accept That Conflict Is Inevitable
It’s safe to say that conflict will happen in any small business. Part of the trick of managing it is accepting that it's going to happen, and to not get angry that others, or even yourself, are upset.
Accepting that there is no avoiding conflict also means that you will be better prepared to manage it when it does come. Be calm, relaxed, and ready to face the challenge.
Be Patient and Understanding
When others are upset, being dismissive or condescending does nothing to calm the situation. Make sure that when talking through issues with angry employees you genuinely listen to what is bothering them.
Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic ear to calm someone down, or for them to air their grievances, to realize the situation may not be as bad as they first thought. Being patient and understanding someone’s issues does not necessarily mean you agree with them. It just means that you can empathize with why they feel that way.
Create a Culture of Respect
One of the best ways to manage conflict is to try to prevent it from arising in the first place. When the inevitable does come and people have a disagreement, you should have already fostered an environment where they can constructively work through their issues.
Team building and team bonding can go a long way to creating a cohesive and well-functioning team. The better your staff know each other, the more understanding they will be of each other’s point of views.
Respect is built over time, so make sure that you are taking time out on a regular basis to build team bonds through games, activities and morale boosting events.
Don’t Let it Fester
One of the most toxic things for a workplace is an unresolved conflict that sits and festers over an extended period of time. It can damage team morale and even affect the mental health of those involved.
If there is a conflict, make time to meet and discuss, and make it within a day of the initial complaint coming to light. Speed is important, but it may also be important to let everyone sleep on it to get a better perspective.
Nipping conflicts in the bud will allow everyone to put it aside and move on, which can only be better for your business.
Have Clear Expectations
Sometimes issues arise when the expectations or the rules of the workplace are not clearly defined. Are you upset at what someone wore to work today? Then you better have a clear definition of what constitutes appropriate work apparel.
The same goes for any other behaviors, from scents in the workplace to scheduled break times. If the expectations are understood by everyone, then there is less opportunity for workplace disagreements.
Find Common Ground
Some workplace disagreements are incredibly hard to work through. When there are staff members who have deeply entrenched ideas of how things should work, or they have negative feelings towards someone else, it may take more than a meeting to work things out.
Sometimes, the best you can do is to focus on the areas where two parties agree. That agreement could even be each person simply acknowledging why they are upset. Once that agreement is reached, focus on it, and then ask “what can we do to solve this and move forward?”
Moving forward should always be a priority. In many cases, conflict arises from mistakes, or perceived mistakes, that cannot be fixed after the fact.
The best course of action is to accept it, learn from that mistake, and move on. It’s important when working with your staff that you communicate the need to move forward and how unproductive and futile it is to wallow in the problem.
Managing conflict is one of those things that just about every manager and business owner dreads. It can affect everything, from productivity to customer service. It’s important for a leader to provide the right example and to have the tools they need to deal with workplace conflict, effectively and productively.