Whether it’s your staff facing a workplace conflict or tension between you and a coworker, it’s worth validating the tension—and understanding why it’s there.
People butt heads. It’s a natural part of the work experience, and one that the bosses will inevitably run into.
For leaders, it might turn you into a referee of your own staff sometimes. And you might even run into a conflict like this yourself.
So what do you do to clear the air? A few thoughts worth considering:
Consider the importance of the battle. Sometimes the small stuff will be just too small to really give your time. In a guest post for the website People Matters, motivational speaker and leadership coach Abhinav Goel suggests that workplace conflicts often carry different levels of weight, and that weight means that there will be small stuff in the mix. He notes that it’s important to see the bigger picture, including broader cultural issues at play. In terms of trivial fights, he writes: “Every time you encounter a situation where you feel like picking up a battle, ask yourself—‘Is this battle even worth my time?’ You will realize that, more often than not, you will walk away from a simmering yet insignificant situation with your head held high.”
Don’t pretend the tension isn’t there. But ignoring small conflicts doesn’t mean letting the tension fester. Writing for Forbes, WebFX Founder William Craig noted that ignoring underlying tension that comes with office environments simply makes things worse. “Refusing to meet workplace conflicts head-on, and patiently—or being ambivalent or playing favorites by not taking one of the parties seriously—is a quick way to sour the tone and trustworthiness of your workplace,” Craig writes. “If people don’t feel they can be candid with you about their conflicts and disagreements, and expect a patient ear in return, they’ll stop trying.”
Consider the root causes. Frustrating personal interactions often can go deeper than what’s on the surface, and it’s ideal to know how a person’s position, their values, or their personal life could be affecting their response. “When we’re interacting with a difficult person it’s so easy to focus on counterpoints and deflating their arguments and noticing their flaws,” Inc. writer Scott Mautz noted. “Instead, put your energy into saying more thoughtful things and asking better questions to get to a deeper knowledge of where they’re coming from.”
Don’t be afraid to mediate. Leaders may not necessarily be involved in every workplace debate, but they may need to step in to clear things up, depending on the scale, notes Mike Kappel of Patriot Software Company. “You might need to guide the conversation. And if hurt feelings run high, it’s likely you’ll need to redirect the topic so your employees return to the real problem,” Kappel writes for Entrepreneur. “If you’re in a position to give advice on next steps, highlight the positive aspects of the process and suggest related topics or actions they can work through after the meeting.” And depending on the size of the conflict, you may have to mediate more than once.