Article: Conflict Management: 5 Lessons in building bridges

Life @ Work

Conflict Management: 5 Lessons in building bridges

What does a leader do, when his team members are not in sync? When does he put his foot down and do an intervention? Let’s find an answer.
Conflict Management: 5 Lessons in building bridges

Divya and Rajesh work in the same team. Despite spending large parts of their days together, they don’t get along as well as they could. In the beginning, it was just ignoring communication from each other, but eventually the discomfort snowballed into giving each other cold shoulder, and refusing to even step out for lunch together. Their team manager, Rohit, had sensed the discomfort, but had hoped things would be resolved of their own. The internal dynamics began to effect team performance, and Rohit had to stage an intervention. Turns out, a trivial remark made by someone months ago had started the entire conflict. The misunderstanding was cleared, and things were back to normal. However, it isn’t always the case. Team managers are often at a loss, when they are supposed to step beyond their duty and resolve issues that are not strictly professional. 

Don’t be mistaken, a small amount of conflict is essential to keep the team conversation and dialogue open, however, when it mounts to squabble and causes a hindrance in communication, it is problematic. It is no secret that people are the core assets of any team, or organisations, and therefore if internal dynamics are not in place, they need to be. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that members in your team do not spiral into silence, like Divya and Rajesh, effecting efficiency and output:

1. Talk it Out: Even if you learn about such instances indirectly, it is best to tackle them head-on, and nip them in the bud. The assumption that things would work out on their own is rarely true, and an intervention, no matter how subtle or direct is needed. Without making the conversation confrontational or defensive, encourage the employees in question to sit and resolve their differences, even if you have to mediate the conversation. More often than not, petty differences give rise such situations, and can be resolved early on. Most common disagreements arise when people are assumed to not be pulling their weight, indulge in gossip, have clashing personalities, have high stress levels etc. Most of the problems have a simple solution, provided the solutions are willingly sought. 

2. Acknowledge Both Sides: In case you are mediating a conversation, or talking to your employees in a safe space, it is your duty to remain objective and fair, regardless of your proximity or affinity to either of the employees in question. If possible, have a conversation with the concerned parties separately, to get a context, as direct accusation is not likely to happen face-to-face. Plus, it is your duty as a leader to not let it reach that stage. Your leadership tact and ability to get work done by people will be at test here. 

3. Lead by Example: It is essential that you set a good example in front your team members. Letting unresolved issues getting in way of work, can give an unofficial license to several other people to behave in a similar fashion. Make sure you clearly communicate your views and feedback regularly, and identify issues that directly impact team dynamics. Stick to the guidelines and conduct mentioned in your employee hand-book, to encourage others to do the same, and avoid any untoward situation. 

4. Follow- Up: Probably the most ignored step of all, it is critical to follow up with the team about resolving the conflict. Employees may pretend to resolve issues, fearing leadership, or to avoid taking onus of the fault, and still hold a grudge, which will eventually crop up. It is best to converse with everyone, to evaluate whether the real issue has been resolved, and if the obstacles to team work have been removed. 

5. Take appropriate action in case the issue persists: Even if it means officially communicating to your star performer that they need to pull up their socks, or some sort of action will be taken against them, do that. It is important to remain consistent, and be critical of such behaviour, especially if it is hampering productivity. Re-iterate the company processes, and the culture, and the negative impacts of such situations on the team as a whole. 

Hence, it is vital to realise the importance of resolving conflict in a team, even if it is not professional. Team leaders need to step into the uncomfortable shoes of the pacifier, for it is detrimental to the output of the entire team. Additionally, team leaders also need to understand the importance of clear communication in doing the same, for any ambiguity can be exploited by the employee. Last but not the least; leaders need to be strict, consistent, and fair, in dealing with such internal discrepancies.

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Relations, Watercooler

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