Sometimes people who work together do not get along and it’s hard to form relationships with people who ‘just don’t get you’. However, personality clashes cause a bad atmosphere at work and impact on motivation and productivity.
When two people don’t get on at work, the atmosphere can quickly sour and productivity will plunge.
Hostility is usually hidden but it can show itself in passive-aggressive behaviour such as avoiding, ignoring or procrastinating.
For managers and business owners, problems between their employees are one of the most unpleasant and difficult things you have to deal with. However, conflict at work is incredibly common and a lot of businesses don’t know how to deal with it.
You need to make sure that it is not a serious issue, such as bullying or discrimination. Normally it’s due to personality clashes that cause most of the problems.
Employees that feel angry or upset usually find it hard to disguise their feelings. This will make an impact on their motivation and productivity in their work as it can be hard for them to concentrate. The conflict can even affect others in the team, as the working dynamic can change.
In a small firm, the impact can be even more noticeable. This is because of the office or workplace maybe smaller so it is harder to get away from conflict.
However, small businesses tend to handle these problems better than bigger firms. A small business owner is likely to want to clear the air straight away and talk to those involved, as they are more of a close-knit team.
Problems often get sorted more rapidly and more easily. It is more difficult in a bigger office because it is more of a corporate environment, where staff may build working relationships in their department rather than all of the company.
Why is there conflict between staff?
Normally it is because the individuals are very similar. The arguments are usually around miscommunications, misunderstanding and different styles of communicating or working.
People can also have misguided assumptions about their colleagues’ intentions.
Email doesn’t help situations too. Sometimes things can be read differently to how people portray their words. People often use email more when things are going wrong. You need to invest time in face-to-face conversations.
Change is another problem for conflict. People are often unhappy when there has been a change in line management; perhaps someone who was previously a peer has become a new manager. Employees are often used to a particular situation and find it hard to adjust to change.
You should try to get people to talk to each other one on one, so they can better understand each other and eventually restore the relationship. Normally problems are resolved when people actually talk to each other in a safe and comfortable environment.
Who should deal with this?
Dealing with conflict – and avoiding it in the first place – normally comes down to the line manager. The worst thing a manager can do is to ignore a toxic relationship within the business. This is why the role of the line manager is absolutely key.
Some managers do not feel confident or don’t want to intrude or get too involved. If you see that someone is upset then you should always check in with them and ask if they need help with the situation.
Ask them what have they tried to do about it and give them a bit of coaching. They may even say they want an opportunity to try and resolve the problem themselves then let them but check back to see how they have done.
If you are the line manager and are unsure how to deal with this, training can help spot problems and develop a better understanding of how to interfere to resolve the conflict.
But if things carry on, then you should become more involved. Speak to the individuals first and then very quickly set up a dialogue.
If you need to resolve it, it will take time. As management, you cannot rush through a solution because you can sometimes make it worse. If employees don’t have enough time to feel listened to and understood and then you should make sure they both see each other’s point of view.
What’s important is not what two people are arguing about; because that will just be whatever tipped them over the edge. What is important is what is underneath, whether it is recognition or saving face.
Managers need two core skills to be able to get a resolution. One of the most important skills is empathetic listening, the ability to truly listen without jumping in. This way the staff member will feel as you are understanding their view and actually care about what they are saying.
The other is the ability to reflect things back to people using positive reframing. You will often hear a negative statement like ‘He never listens to anything I say!’
The reframing might be ‘It is important to you that he understands what you are saying’. So you have acknowledged the problem, but given it a positive emphasis. It helps both parties to hear messages in a different way.
How can you avoid conflict in the first place?
There needs to be room for healthy challenge in the workplace for things get aired. If staff are not comfortable or even fearful about raising issues, then problems get bottled up. This doesn’t help your situation.
Everyone should feel relaxed to air out their views, thoughts and opinions in a safe environment – even if people disagree with them.
Management style is also crucial. The more old-fashioned command and control style of management can cause clashes. It’s much healthier to empower and motivate people by setting objectives and then letting people do things their own way.
Listening to your staff is important not just for improving your business but for their working environment. If they are happy when they work harder and bring in more business for you.