Conflicts among senior people in the workplace often happen for no real reasons. Yet CEOs need to resolve them amicably, if work has to get done.
Anita couldn’t understand why her two key lieutenants just wouldn’t get along!
They never agreed with each other and lost no opportunity to show the other in poor light. They were peers, highly qualified, ran successful businesses, yet Mozart and Salieri were constantly at each other’s throats.
Conflict in the workplace is not uncommon! Some people at all leadership levels, prefer to stand on their egos rather than play on the team. Let’s not beat around the bush, it is the ego, first and foremost. Only thereafter comes the – often rather petty – issue.
Anita tended to prioritize business results over the conflicts in her team. Consequently, she missed the fact that the behavior of her leaders influenced the organizational climate – which eventually impacted productivity.
Anita, here’s some advice:
- Read the signs – early: The office grapevine will deliver signs of a conflict early enough. Sensing trouble is an instinct human beings inherit from their animal ancestry. Yet, in our ‘fact-based-decision-making’ environment, this vital intuitive skill tends to get sidelined. Bottom line: sniff out trouble, before it sniffs you out!
- Maintain a professional attitude: When handling conflicts on the team, a leader must play the mediator – not the advocate – and maintain a fair and objective position. If in doubt about how this works, simply repair back to basics: are we in line with the company values/code of conduct? Are we in line with business goals?
- Facilitate communication: Sometimes it helps to just bring both individuals together and urge them to behave like mature professionals – i.e. talk! The underlying messages should be: your behavior is affecting the rest of the team, and the business; if you don’t work together, competition will win. Remember the movie Chak De India? Coach Kabir facilitated a conversation between his two strikers…then left them alone. They worked it out.
- Find the root cause: Often the real reason for the conflict lies hidden deep within layers of connected baggage gathered over time. However, once the root cause – the very basis – is identified, things begin to even out. Chances are, something trivial, a misunderstanding, or even hearsay with no truth behind it, could have started the whole thing. Once the air is clear, reconstruction of the relationship can begin.
- Give feedback relentlessly: Including warnings. Both parties should be fully aware that you are not enamored by their behavior. That your patience is limited. Give feedback to both the individuals – jointly and separately. Consistently reiterate that they should work things out quickly and get on with the business. State clearly of how they’re expected to behave.
- Resist gossip: The office grapevine is fine to get a flavor of things, but don’t take it too seriously. Else, it’ll become a demon, growing in proportion to the importance accorded. It’s not easy, yet those ‘advisors’ who suddenly show up to ‘help’ must be kept at bay.
Despite being the overall business head, to be honest, Anita isn’t expected to always have all the answers. Hence a little humility to seek help wouldn’t be construed as her weakness.
Of course, Anita’s best help would’ve come from the two warring individuals themselves – when they sorted things out! Still, some additional support would speed things up. If nothing else, just talking about it would reduce her stress in this situation.
- A mentor: Mentors are always a good idea – especially if they are not connected with the business. They have no vested interests and can significantly widen the perspective.
- The HR or Legal head: If difficult decisions need to be made, one of these individuals would certainly be involved. Their advice will at least be compliant with policy and the law.
- The friendly neighborhood headhunter: Things may not always work out for the best. Chances are, someone is going to say goodbye. So get HR to dust off those JDs and write out the brief – it’s time to create a backup.
An old study by Psychometrics Canada, conducted among HR professionals, indicated that more than 85% conflicts stemmed from – that’s right – egos and personality clashes! More than 80% of the respondents said that conflict has led to someone leaving the organization.
However, the same respondents averred that if managed well, conflict resolution did have positive conclusions: better understanding of other (77%); better solutions to problems and challenges (57%); and higher work-team performance (40%).
Titans of the workplace will continue to clash. So, Anita would have to make serious efforts to influence the outcome. Positive or destructive – her choice!