Conflict Management: How to Maintain the Peace and Profits
By Austin Stone March 17, 2021
Is office conflict a major point of contention in your role? One of our key leadership roles is managing multiple personalities that come to work each day. Sometimes it is a simple miscommunication, and other times we are looking at serious issues with major consequences. If you are in a smaller practice like me, you may not have access to an HR representative, and that can be stressful when trying to deal with conflict professionally and legally. Let’s cover some ways to help you navigate these treacherous waters for your practice.
First, if you haven't already created an open space for your employees to come to you with an issue, you need to do so. Open lines of communication are key to your success as a leader. You want your team to know you are there for them. One thing I learned in my career is doing daily huddles, these are short 10-15 minutes updates at the beginning of your day. Ask your team to be actionable and bring any business issues or questions to the huddle. This will engage your team and allow you to quickly assess the issues for the front line. This also puts you in front of them every day and they get to know you. Second, set up 1:1 sessions monthly with your team. This will provide them a set time and space to discuss their issues with you. You can also bring any areas of improvement or acknowledge their hard work. Set an agenda with key topics so they know what to expect, as well as indicating to them they will have time in this session to speak freely.
Now that you have created a space for your team to communicate better, what do you do when an issue does arise? You will want to listen to your team member first, don't jump in or try to beat them to the punch with an answer. You should be sure to gather all of the information from them. Once they are done, you can respond. You will want to identify what type of issue is in front of you. Is it a training issue? Direct them to a resource or schedule time with them to sit side by side and go over the concern. Is it an issue between staff members? Have they attempted to resolve the issue themselves? If not, provide them ways to approach the other team member and work it out without your interference. If they have already tried that approach and the issue is not resolved, then you will want to intervene.
When an issue is brought to you and you need to step in, begin documenting. You do not want the details to become fuzzy, they need to be crystal clear and accessible for you to address and resolve the concern. Bring the second employee that is in question for a discussion. You will want to be sure that they know there is an issue before asking for their side of the story. Stating things like "A concern about X was brought to my attention, and I wanted to be sure you were aware". This allows them a moment to catch up to you and know what they are addressing. Get their point-of-view, do the two sides lead to a simple miscommunication that you can address, or is there a violation of core values here?
If you have a violation, and it seems as though you can sit the two members down, provide them the same direct message about what your company core values, what the expectations will be going forward, and how to follow up with you should it not improve for either party. Have them each sign and acknowledge the conversation. This way, should it occur again, they cannot say they did not understand. It is imperative to remind your staff that the practice is a place of business. It’s your role as a manager to do whatever you can to support each employee, but violating the practice’s core values is not acceptable.
Of course, if you are faced with a matter that requires suspension or termination, be sure that you have read through your state's employment laws and companies' employee handbooks, guidelines, or previous employment practices. Do you have another manager or your boss accessible to discuss things with, be sure you do so. A second opinion or the space to vocalize your plan will help you work through it and be more confident as well. Do not hesitate to contact an employment attorney for a second opinion. A small legal consult fee, as annoying as they can to pay on the front-end, might go a long way to saving lots of time, hassle, and money should the employment matter escalate.
Workplace conflicts can be stressful and take away from your daily duties. If you’re in a leadership role, you have to embrace, not resist, the responsibility. You should work with your leadership team to outline team expectations. You should always make yourselves accessible to discuss issues with your staff and help resolve conflict quickly and professionally.