6 Tips for Helping Employees Work Through Conflicts
Throughout my decades working in a leadership role, I've learned a lot about helping people through conflicts in the workplace. For example, Robert is a great guy. But when he started working with me, he was always getting into conflicts with coworkers. Part of the problem was that Robert tended to be aggressive with the other employees. He could come across as pushy, loud and overbearing. He is a good worker who cares about other people, but just didn't know how to show it. Helping him to work with his behavior took some time, but bore great fruit.
Understand that everyone is well-intended.
When I sat down with Robert, I first had to create a heart-to-heart connection. Like everyone, deep within his heart, he wanted to get along with people. I would get to that place with him by talking about almost anything other than his recent conflict, when he had yelled at another employee in a very intimidating way. We could talk about the weather or a sporting event or weekend plans. It didn't matter. What mattered was the connection. From that foundation, we could then go into the issue at hand. This is an effective way to put the person at ease so they are open to listening.
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"Talk to me"
After the connection was well-established, I mentioned I understood he had a recent conflict and then said, "Talk to me. What's going on?" This gave Robert the opportunity to let out whatever he needed to say, which maintained my connection with him while we got into the story. I didn't give opinions or try to correct his behavior. I just listened.
The initial goal was not to correct him or reprimand him, but to give him the opportunity to express his feelings -- any negativity, resentment or judgment he might be experiencing. Sometimes it gets uglier before it gets better. I took great care not to nip his process in the bud, but rather to allow it to unravel.
Trying to control Robert's poor behavior by meeting it strictly on its own level would have been ineffective. He would have dug in his heels, only leading to confrontation and poor behavior which would have at best driven his resentment underground to a level that is more subversive, sinister and potentially detrimental. However, when poor behavior is addressed in a heart-to-heart and sincere manner, the results can be transformational. In so doing, you don't alienate the other individual, but instead befriend them and gain their respect. This is the key to successful communication.
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After a team member has spoken their piece, they usually come to a point of relative silence. You may even ask them if there are any new points or aspects they would like to share. If they just start repeating themselves, you can respectfully point that out and request they only provide new information as opposed to rehashing what they already said. It's important at this stage, however, to acknowledge that you heard and understood them the first time. Oftentimes, that is enough.
People see more than they are often able to acknowledge, especially in the moment. Give them the benefit of this understanding and then see what happens in the upcoming days. Sometimes offering your perspective right away shuts down the process, driving their issues underground.
Related: Managing People Is an Art: 32 Ways to Do it Right.
Offer your perspective
If you do feel that an immediate response to their viewpoint is necessary, it's best to say it in a non-confrontational manner. It's not about making them wrong. It's about opening the door, inviting them to come from the place of goodness which dwells deeper within them. If you don't lose sight of that place within them, they will sense it. If not immediately, then in time, your honoring of this place within them will inspire them to consider your viewpoint from that deeper, wiser level.
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Inspire by modeling
By embodying goodness, speaking and acting from that place, and following these steps whenever Robert had a confrontation, how I was became a guiding light of inspiration for Robert to do the same.
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Over time, Robert has been inspired from within himself to improve his behavior in his own way. He was able to use better techniques when dealing with other employees rather than just yelling at them. Since he is an impatient person, he learned how to temper that, even if it meant walking away for a period of time to calm down. He got in touch with his feelings and was able to determine what was really going on within himself.
It was important to give Robert the leeway to accomplish that in his own way. On my part, this meant giving him plenty of time and space to work things out himself, as well as supporting him to sort his feelings out. I came from a place of helping him determine what was reasonable for himself and his relationships. By feeling the goodness in me and resonating with it, he felt safe and was invited to view his behavior constructively, yet in a manner which was unique to his own personality, method, timing, and nature.
No two people are exactly alike. For this reason, we can't prescribe exactly what proper behavior looks like, but we do know every individual can feel it within themselves and come from that place. It is ours only to assist in the process, but not strictly define it.
Certainly, at times, there needs to be some discussion about what proper behavior and attitudes look like. However, a huge catalyst which will inspire team members to listen, reflect, and change is their respect for you and the place of goodness you act from. Ultimately, the most effective team is a group of people all coming from that place with shared laudable intent.