How to Quash Conflict Before it Takes Over Your Organization

BY Kathy Crosett
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Any change in an organization can bring about good results, but also increases the chance for conflict. If managers don’t pay attention to growing conflict in their department or organization, they risk letting disputes become more important than productivity. If you sense conflict in the air, follow these steps offered by Rachel Eryn Kalish and Pat Zigarmi for TrainingMag to quickly resolve the issue.

Nobody likes to deal with conflict, but the first thing you need to do is figure out where it's coming from. Some organizational changes have a higher likelihood of inducing conflict than others. For example, you might bring in a new employee whose personality doesn’t mesh well with the others. Conflict can also arise when you ask two current employees to work on a new kind of project. Another source of conflict can be linked to a newly-​promoted employee who's struggling with handling his extra duties. If he's delegating too many tasks, arguments might break out or you may find you have a workplace in which nobody is talking to each other.

Good managers have to be attuned to conflict. This means noticing when an employee’s behavior suddenly changes. If a previously enthusiastic and hard-​working employee is having trouble finishing her work or brings up negative issues all the time, it’s time for a private chat. If two employees deliberately appear to be avoiding each other or blame each other for a project that is behind schedule, you’ll also need to step in. As Kalish and Zigarmi suggest, the most effective way to deal with conflict is talk with the people involved – individually and in an environment where each employee feels safe enough to reveal what’s bothering him.

In some cases, you may be able to quickly resolve issues by shifting responsibilities. In other cases, you may not be able to make any changes. Sometimes, it's the employee who needs advice, and your mature perspective, to learn how to change his perception of a situation and become a more effective contributor. Above all, make sure everyone in your department or group hears that you’ve addressed the situation and made changes to improve the workplace environment.

Strong leadership means paying attention to both the verbal and non-​verbal communications taking place between your employees and others in the organizations. Taking steps to reduce conflict as soon as it’s apparent shows you care about your team members and about the success of the organization. There’s no substitute for having these difficult conversations. If you’re just starting to adopt this kind of leadership model, keep your goal in mind – you are aiming for a productive and positive work environment and the best way to get there is to reduce negative conflict.