No matter how stressful and unproductive, office conflict is unavoidable. As many entrepreneurs understand all-too-well, conflicts that are allowed to fester unresolved have a lasting impact on morale and can hurt the business in other ways.
While no CEO wants to play workplace referee, effective managers are those who tackle employee or client clashes head-on, acknowledge differences of opinion and still find a way to keep the peace between cubicles. In his book The Power of a Positive Attitude: Discovering the Key to Success, management consultant Roger Fritz outlines these 12 guidelines for minimizing the negative consequences of conflict:
- Always meet an opponent face-to-face: E-mail and phone calls are the easy way out. Fritz argues that to understand an opponent’s opinion, you need to look them in the eye.
- Don’t hide your views: Immediately table your opinion in the first meeting aimed at resolving the conflict. Reaffirming the relationship is key to an eventual agreement.
- Minimize status differences: No conflict situation is aided by condescending attitudes. Opposing parties should be dealt with respectfully and on an equal footing.
- Don’t place blame: Pointing the finger at someone else only exacerbates the problem.
- Deal with conflict at the lowest possible level: As a manager, avoid becoming involved in conflicts that should be resolved by your employees. Although there are times, writes Fritz, that the boss needs to weigh in, becoming the office referee is a waste of valuable time.
- Delay commitments to specific solutions: Too long a delay could make matters worse, but a limited interval often allows participants the flexibility to find a solution to the problem.
- Identify areas of mutual agreement: Approach any conflict with a list of issues you can all agree on and move towards a resolution.
- Emphasize mutual benefits: If both parties understand what’s at stake, they’ll have concrete reasons to cooperate.
- Avoid judgmental language: The wrong choice of words can highlight inner feelings that could intensify the conflict.
- When errors cause a conflict, be specific: Avoid generalities and sweeping statements like “You always disagree with me!”
- Build coalitions to handle future conflicts: Building on past success can help resolve future disagreements before they escalate out of control.
- Examine your own biases first: Never let your own feelings interfere with your main goal—the satisfactory resolution of the conflict.