Tackling conflict in the workplace

58Sometimes you just have to face up to the person who is causing the conflict and tackle them head on. But first you must arm yourself with solid evidence and develop an action plan to defuse the conflict. Whether you are dealing with a difficult staff member, colleague, or manager, our advice will be helpful for you.

Avoiding conflict can be more destructive than facing it and dealing with it appropriately, so when you have exhausted all other possibilities, use conflict to improve communication, solve a problem, and build trust and cooperation.

Effective communication, in the form of listening to, and showing respect for the people we work with, makes everyone more productive.

Dealing with a difficult colleague

BDealing with a difficult colleague can be challenging, but isn’t impossible.

Difficult colleagues can make life at work unpleasant if not downright miserable. They can be demanding and exhausting, and cause a great deal of distress for everyone involved. Interacting and dealing with these people can be a major cause of employee lack of engagement.  Sometimes their behaviour affects your performance, so you do need to try to resolve the issue.

Perhaps they are rude, use bad language, tease or bully you or others, gossip and speculate about everyone. Or are lazy and don’t do any work unless a supervisor is around.

Your first option is to limit the amount of interaction you have with them. This may be easier in some situations than others. If you can avoid them and ignore them, that is your best solution. Just don’t let them get to you.

If that is not an option then try working around the behaviour. Leave when they exhibit troublesome behaviour. Deal with them when it is possible and avoid them when necessary. Ignore their bad behaviour, don’t get involved

If none of this works, you may have to address the issue yourself, perhaps with the cooperation of like-minded colleagues. Many people avoid dealing with difficult colleagues because they don’t feel they have the power to do anything about the situation, or that they don’t have adequate skills to resolve difficult interactions. Or they may fear potential “political” consequences, perhaps being seen as a troublemaker themselves.

As a last resort, involve management. They should deal with the problem in the interest of providing a pleasant working atmosphere for the team. Managers should create a positive work environment that fosters creativity and energy. They need to demonstrate leadership by establishing good values, and demonstrating fairness.

Dealing with a difficult manager

MFirst of all examine your own performance. Are they being difficult with you because you are failing to reach their expectations of you, or your targets? Are you being consistent with the values of the team? Is your attitude at work the best it can be? Are you a productive member of the team?

Make sure you are above reproach before you tackle your boss and complain about their behaviour and attitude.

Make sure your behaviour is professional in the workplace.

Consider their position and why they may be acting as they are. Maybe they are facing pressure from their own manager, maybe they are understaffed and overworked, and passing pressure onto you because they need more from you.

Once you have considered all these aspects, if you still feel they are being unreasonable, then have a chat with them. Explain the problem in an open and unemotional way, being clear about the problem and how you would like it to be resolved.

They may not have understood the problem you were facing or how you felt.

The result of the conversation may be that things improve, but you may have to deal with your issues or find a new place to work. If they are unwilling to change and you can’t continue with things as they are then you will need to move on.

Dealing with a difficult staff member

If you are a manager, and there is someone in your department who is causing conflict, you must address the problem. If the situation is not tackled things will deteriorate and morale and performance will be affected.

Before you take any action consider a couple of points;-

Does the person know they are causing a problem? Are they being deliberately disruptive? Maybe they do not realise that their behaviour is an issue.

Is the situation retrievable? Can you get this person to alter their behaviour, and if so will they make a positive contribution to the company?

How has this situation arisen? Have the management failed to communicate properly with them? Is it a failure of the induction process, poor training, and poor management? Have they been given feedback on their behaviour? How can we ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Once you have thought all these issue through, collect some factual information about the issues. Research the problem, gather information from other employees (information – not hearsay and gossip, but facts) to get an appreciation of the extent of the problem, and observe the person.

Then, armed with accurate facts and examples to illustrate your points, and with an action plan in mind, arrange a private meeting and address the issue with the person, ideally in a non-confrontational manner.

Remember that feedback is usually best received if it is delivered in a non-judgemental way, focuses on the positive, identifies problems and proposes action for better outcomes.

It is helpful to start with a compliment, to get the session off on a good footing.

Then, establish if the employee is aware of the problem. If not, use the examples you have to illustrate the unacceptable behaviour, and its implications for the business.

They may not accept that there are issues. If so continue giving clear, accurate examples of their behaviour. You need to uncover the root of the problem, and understand how the other person perceives the situation.

Ask questions that will lead the employee to work out their own insights and work with you to find a solution.

“Can you see another way to approach this? “

“Why do you behave in this way?”

“What is your thought process?”

Allow them to respond to the allegations you are making. Most people can only learn if they have had a chance to justify their behaviour. The objective is to move them into a learning mode.

Using questions such as “How could it have been done better?” and “Where do you think we could make improvements?” will help them appreciate that their negative behaviours are actually causing problems for others.

Most people will eventually acknowledge their negative behaviour and work with you to develop an action plan to get back on track.

If they absolutely refuse to cooperate despite the evidence, and won’t attempt to improve the situation, you need to consider termination of their contract.

There are legal issues to consider here and you should involve your HR department and carefully follow company guidelines.

There should be a trial period giving the opportunity to alter the offending behaviour. If this does not result in improvements, then the employee contract should be terminated. This may involve recording a series of documented verbal and written feedback concerning the offending behaviour.

Issues related to salary package

One of the most common workplace conflicts arises in relation to salary and benefits.

For an employer it is good practice to ask staff not to discuss their package with others, and this can reduce the incidence of problems.

It is important to31 have a process that allows for payment queries to be addressed promptly

It is also a good idea to have a transparent pay structure in place, which allows staff to know what they can expect if they achieve the next level, and what they need to do to achieve it.

This system calls for a clear “bench marking” and comparison of different job roles throughout the company, which can be expensive, time consuming and complicated.

A downside of a transparent pay structure can be that the employer may lose the flexibility to attract high flyers, who expect to earn more than the structure allows for.

This can sometimes be addressed through a flexible benefits package or an incentive scheme.

Beware of incentive schemes

Sometimes when financial performance incentives are offered, it is a case of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it “.

If the incentive is not very carefully structured, individuals can begin to vie against each other, causing conflict and producing a bad atmosphere. This usually happens when the incentive makes colleagues compete with one another and values individual performance above team performance.

So the design of the financial performance incentives must be carefully considered.