Managing Conflict in the Workplace Before it Turns Toxic

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Leading Your Team Series

Whether you are a business owner or a manager or an employee, conflict arises, and the more you can hone your skill to manage that conflict, the better you can handle the situation.

Too often, minor issues spiral out of control when individuals are tired or overworked and not in the right “place” to address the situation appropriately. Here are some considerations to strengthen your skills of communication.

The Start to Most Conflict

Most frequently, in-office conflict stems from miscommunications. An essential part of growing a team is to help educate everyone on different communication styles. On the one hand, a person may be blunt and to the point because that’s how they like to receive information. Whereas, another individual may want to gather all of the facts and information to make a systematic analysis before reaching a conclusion and speaking up with a final answer. Another person may wish to “talk through” all the options before reaching an ultimate decision.

In my experience, a lot of the workplace conflict arises when the speaker conveys some bit of information, but the receiver hears an entirely different message than was intended. If the speaker is rushed or already in a tense situation, then information conveyed can come across clipped, abrupt, or abrasive. The same can be true in emails. Emails are even more difficult because you can’t see if the person is smiling or has an uplifting tone, and the words can sometimes be very harsh. This can often create a base of resentment, to which a conflict between two individuals begins to escalate.

When to Step In

As the team leader, it is important to carefully navigate when there is a necessity to step in and personally handle the situation versus the opportunity to grow your team by redirecting them to use tools and learn to communicate better.

A leader who always “parachutes in” and tries to fix everything just earned themselves a full-time job because the team will rely on the leader to do that every single time. Instead, find opportunities to coach your team and how they might resolve issues or gather more information, so they can complete a project with another member of the team and re-channel their energies into a productive forward process.

How to Handle Conflict

Movement can often disrupt conflict. By creating forward motion on a project or toward the next step, a leader can redirect the team to be more productive and accomplished. When people have a new focus, it can reduce the conflict.

That said, sometimes there’s the need to intervene when events have escalated. It is vital as a leader not to jump to conclusions or take sides with one person versus the other until you’ve gathered all of the information to better assess the actual events that had transpired to bring the two people to this level of conflict. Then it is time to consider what options there are for resolution. Finally, sit down with each person or with everyone, depending on the circumstance.

What is imperative is that the leader has a plan of action to address the situation and create that forward movement. A leader must share their expectations and communicate what will or will not be tolerated. This is a great time to draw the conversation back to the company’s mission and the core values that are key to the business’s culture.

When Conflict has Turned Toxic

Unfortunately, sometimes a situation has escalated to the point where redirection, training, and coaching are no longer effective, or where there has been egregious conduct. It is imperative to immediately take steps to terminate the toxic person before they leave a trail of toxicity throughout the office. Then address the team and be clear that that type of conduct will not be tolerated.

A good leader will communicate to the team they are vested in finding A-team players to join this amazing team, so each person on the team thrives.

While not every situation can be avoided, by being more aware of how conflict develops and seeking better communication to address and resolve conflict, you can build a stronger team and a stronger culture.

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