The first time you noticed something unusual was about 2 months ago. You came out of your office and your team were unusually quiet… staring intently at the screens, madly pressing away on their keyboards or clicking at a mouse. One team member seems to be strutting around the office nervously making jokes and trying to get people’s attention and another team member was missing, presumably in the loo or taking a coffee break… it was a bit odd, but you didn’t think too much of it and went back inside your office to continue working.
In the days and weeks afterwards, the office banter lessened. People started coming in at one minute to nine, seemingly unhappy to be at work and then leaving as soon as the clock chimed five. At times, you’d see a small huddle of people around someone’s desk and then whole groups of people leaving the office to lunch together leaving just one or two behind. Pretty soon sales targets were being missed, project schedules were getting delayed, people were calling in sick and a new phrase had started appearing in the office… “sorry – its not my job”.
Conflicts are an inevitable part of working life, but when left unmanaged – they have the capacity to tear teams and even entire organisations apart. What might start off as a spat between two individuals can quickly escalate into an unsavoury popularity contest forcing unwitting team members to take sides and so it’s important as a leader, to identify and mediate the conflict at the earliest opportunity.
But how do you go about mediating a venomous and bitter conflict? How can you bring about a successful conclusion when both parties regard the opposing one as being in the wrong, deceitful or just plain mad?
Here are a few simple pointers to help:
- Speak to the individuals involved and make sure they feel their feelings and needs are acknowledged and understood.
- Help them understand that conflict is a circular dynamic — to which both parties contribute. By understanding their own role in the conflict and the power they have to break the cycle of conflict, it can help to avoid further incidents in the future.
- Bring the ‘combatants’ together, to talk through their feelings and needs and also to explore why they took the path they did
- Look beyond the conflict at the qualities and the value each person brings to the bigger picture.
Conflicts are often born (or at least heavily fuelled) by incorrect assumptions. Perhaps something said innocently, that has been taken the wrong way or a team member taking action, which another person feels is devious or deliberately damaging to them. In no time at all, what may have been a minor initial incident (or not even an incident at all) becomes distorted beyond all recognition as emotions go into overdrive.
But it doesn’t always have to be like this. The road to conflict resolution requires self-awareness and empathy from all parties – and if as leaders, we instill these values within the very culture of our organisations – we stand a very good chance of conflict becoming a far less significant part of everyday office life.