Positive workplace culture is the crux of any successful business. It drives attitudes, loyalty, performance, satisfaction and productivity. Leadership sets the tone for culture in any workplace. While the recipe for a positive workplace culture has many ingredients, none is more important than competent and effective conflict management. It's the roux to your gumbo, the mirepoix to your beef bourguignon. Enough of that, let's get to it.
Here are 7 proven tips to help hone your conflict resolution skills so you can create a cohesive and positive environment.
1. Take a minute – But don't wait too long.
It's important to quickly address issues that arise in order to prevent them from devolving into crisis status. However, it is equally as important to take a beat and get a sure grip on exactly what it is you are dealing with. It will also give you time to manage your own stress from the situation, so you can tackle it head first in a calm and controlled way. The goal is to set a tone that facilitates strong working relationships, achievement of goals, prevention of an "us" vs. "them" mentality, and the opportunity for employees to consider different perspectives. Be swift with your intervention but don't rush in without having the facts.
2. Consider the person.
Different people have different viewpoints, values and ways of handling things. Some people respond well to a direct approach in communication and some feel as if they are being attacked. Ask yourself; "How can I communicate with this person in a way that makes them feel heard? How can I communicate with them in a way that will clearly convey my point and draw out of them my desired result?". You want to move toward cohesion, not away from it. Different people with different needs call for a multifaceted drawer of utensils when dealing with conflict resolution.
3. Listen well.
Excellent active listening skills are paramount if you want to be an expert at conflict resolution. If an employee does not feel heard, you are going to be hard pressed to get them to listen to you. Encourage them to talk to you - "I want to understand…", Rephrase and restate what you hear – "It sounds like…", then validate – "I can understand how that would upset you. Thank you for telling me how you feel.". Now is not the time for correction. You don't have to agree with what they are saying. You just have to make sure they know that you heard them, and you understand what they are saying.
4. Be concise – But not harsh.
Delivering criticism, redirection or negative feedback is never exactly easy. Even people who take it well tend to feel defensive to some degree. Be sure to highlight the issue at hand, not the person. It's about what they did not who they are. Avoid accusations and extreme language like "always" and "never". Keep in mind that most communication is conveyed non-verbally. Be mindful not to cross your arms or roll your eyes. Keep a neutral posture and your hands in a more inviting position; on the table or in your lap, for instance. Throw in a compliment or two. You don't want the employee to walk away with only a negative feeling to draw on.
6. Let them see it from your point of view.
Human beings are more apt to respond positively to a request, criticism and/or redirection when they understand the why behind it. They may not agree with it. They may do it begrudgingly. But they will do it. Particularly if you have cultivated an environment of loyalty and trust. Taking the time to explain why there is a conflict and why something has to be done to alleviate that conflict will help to ensure a positive resolution.
7. End on a positive note.
Reiterate the things you agreed on in the conversation. Even if it was implied. For example, though neither of you may have spoken the words "Open communication is important.", you can claim it as common ground by saying "I'm really glad we can agree that open communication is important.". Leave the conversation open ended. An example would be; "We talked about a lot just now. If you have any questions, please feel free to come to me with them so we can discuss." Your willingness to find common ground will help build trust relationship and will passively encourage them to do the same.
Developing excellent conflict resolutions skills takes some time. Try to find ways to incorporate using these skills into each day and be willing to readjust if you need to. A positive and cohesive workplace culture is one where your employees want to show up, want to stay, and genuinely want to do a great job.