Managing Employee Conflict for Greater Productivity

If you have employees who don't get along--and if you don't know, you certainly will--these tips will help you resolve the situation to the benefit of both parties.

Researchers estimate that more than 65 percent of performanceproblems result from strained relationships between employeesrather than from deficits in their skill level or motivation.Helping those you manage handle conflict appropriately can improveperformance dramatically. Additional results: lower employeeturnover and a better bottom line.

There are four basic tenets of dealing positively withconflict:

1. Listen. Listen to your employees or colleagues who arein conflict. Let them tell you what the issue is as each of themsees it. Don't assume you know what the problem is; let themtell you. For tips on how to listen fully and effectively, clickhere to see Brief Tips Issues 1 and 2:

2. Focus on facts. People in conflict frequently describethe reasons for their conflict in vague terms. They might complain"She never listens to my ideas" or "He is soarrogant" or "She has such a bad attitude." Ask fordescriptions of specific behaviors, because it is only behaviorthat you can reasonably expect to change. For example, someone whocomplains his ideas are "never listened to" might, whenpressed for specific behaviors, admit that "When I burst intoher office with a great idea, she waves me off with a request to'talk about it later.'"

3. Show empathy for feelings. For most people, the stingof a conflict can be reduced when they feel understood. Expressingempathy means showing you understand how something can bedifficult, how someone could feel sad about a situation, howsomeone could feel threatened, angry, upset. When you say, "Ican see that you felt angry when she waved you off,"you're not saying he should feel angry, or that "she"was wrong, or that you would have felt the same way. You are simplynoting that the person in front of you was clearly angry. And yourespect that.

4. Focus on behavioral change. Frequently people inconflict will not ever agree on an issue that has come betweenthem. That's acceptable. What they can, and must, agree to doare 1) agree to disagree and 2) make reasonable changes in behaviorthat enable them to work together productively. In the exampleabove, the fellow might agree to present his ideas to his colleagueat an agreed-upon time when she is not engrossed in a project. Shemight agree to make certain he has plenty of opportunities topresent his ideas to her.

Scott Miller is vice president of Kirk Miller& Associates Inc., a management consulting firm that writesand presents highly interactive workshops designed to improveproductivity, retention and morale through developingemployees' soft, or interpersonal, skills.

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