Conflict resolution is natural in many office environments. When you have multiple people who are all working on projects they feel passionate about, it is quite likely there will be some disagreement along the way as opinions and viewpoints clash. While most managers would love to avoid these conflicts, they are generally also trained to deal with them at a moment's notice. Leaders should feel confident in their ability to get any two parties past a mutual conflict.
But, what if leaders themselves are the source of conflict? It is not unusual to see a boss who is so determined to put out all the fires, they wind up creating some of their own. As Harvard Business Review contributor Joseph Grenny noted, many company leaders wind up in situations where their own employees do not want to talk to them out of fear of starting a conflict.
Managers think nobody is telling them what is going on, when in reality, the employees do not believe they are able to speak openly and honestly to their bosses without fear of conflict. Employees may be afraid that by bringing up points of concern, they will wind up in conflicts with their bosses. Perhaps this fear is misplaced, or perhaps prior interactions were interpreted as being ill met by accident, and now employees do not want engage their bosses out of fear their opinion will be viewed as hostile, conflicting feedback.
Creating a culture of open feedback
Business leaders understand the importance of resolving conflicts promptly – it leads to better productivity and promotes greater employee engagement throughout the office. It is just as important, however, that bosses craft an environment where they themselves are aware of their own business relationships with others. This often starts by laying down the groundwork for an office where dissenting opinions are welcome from all, even if they conflict with the manager's own goals and objectives.
So, how do bosses ensure people feel comfortable enough to bring up feedback, suggestions and criticism? These difficult conversations start by establishing a baseline of respect. Leaders should make sure all employees know they have permission to bring up conflicting viewpoints and opinions, regardless of their role within the company. This eliminates any need to dilute potential disagreements out of fear of conflicting with leaders.
Another thing leaders should consider is engaging employees more regularly. Regular communications ensure a baseline relationship. For employees, if the only time they speak to their boss is when they have something negative to say, it can be an intimidating encounter that results in half-truths and sugar-coated opinions. Disputes become just another conversation point, instead of a big deal.
Conflict resolution skills are critical for settling internal disputes between employees, but leaders must also ensure they are not laying the seeds for any conflict themselves. Transparency and regular interaction and communication are pivotal to accomplish that.