It goes without saying that a workplace in turmoil is one that will struggle to achieve its goals.
When employees have conflicts with one another, those conflicts are usually left unresolved and are allowed to fester over time. Any potential for effective teamwork or collaboration deteriorates over time. You can probably fill in the rest of the story!
A good manager or team leader is often able to identify tension between team members and can intervene before problems become too large. But not all employees are willing or comfortable with bringing a suppressed issue to their supervisor. This is the unfortunate result of an employee’s belief that their supervisor is not willing to listen or help. And this is particularly problematic when an employee has a problem in the working relation with you and not a fellow colleague. As a result the cycle will continue in which emotions take over and no actions are taken.
In order to get passed this cycle, Balvinder Singh Powar, IE Business School Associate Professor, encourages the use of working arrangements, which he suggests is the secret sauce to a productive working environment. A working agreement is an objective framework for a team or organization to follow that starts with an understanding of shared and core values. A simple agreement, according to Powar, would be “what do we need (individually), what do we expect from each other (as a team), and how can we make this (our goal) work?” And this agreement isn’t necessarily about available resources – it is about behaviors that are expected from the team to encourage everyone to work harmoniously.
So when a conflict arises, how can you as a manager or leader mediate the problem?
Powar uses these 5 steps for conflict resolution
Identifying All the Issues
What you will first find is that problems are complex. Like an onion, problems have multiple layers. And you will have to progressively remove these layers to reach the core problem. These may be professional or personal problems, but it is important to identify all of them and put them all on the table. “But people can’t move forward when you have loads of complicated issues to deal with” says Powar. Which is why step 2 is…
Choose One Issue – Secure an Easy Win/Win
It is possible that one of the layers to the problem needs to be addressed before you can reach the core problem. That’s why it is important to agree upon the one issue that will be the first step for resolution and will secure an easy win/win.
Powar suggests asking: “what is one thing out of all we talked about which is more important for you, not me, for you?” This part is critical. If you as a leader decide for yourself (and the employee) what the most important issue is, then you have not respected the employee’s request to solve a problem, and there is a chance you are violating any working agreements you may have in place. Listening is one of the most important parts to solving a problem, so listen to their request and agree on the one issue.
Now that you have agreed upon the one issue to pursue, it is time to brainstorm the options that can resolve the problem. Again, the important part is to be open and listen to all options. This should be a collaborative process.
Now that you have brainstormed potential paths forward, it is up to you (the leader) and the employee to agree upon the best option(s) to use as the vehicle to resolve the issue.
Being a leader is about being a decision maker, but you still need to look for the win/win that will keep all parties satisfied. If you proclaim that ‘of the 5 options we generated, the option I suggested is the only choice to act upon,’ then you are right back where you started. You must agree on an option and refine as necessary to ensure that the selected option will be in the best interests of all who are involved.
Turn it into a SMART Action Plan
Now that you have agreed upon your option to move forward, you need to make it actionable. To simply verbally declare what your plan is and move along is passive, and you usually won’t achieve the plan you set out to achieve.
Otherwise “It’s not physical for us, and we cannot go back to it,” says Powar. Instead, write the plan down, “Make it: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time Bound.”
As you go through this process, never forget that listening is the most important part of making employees feel and be valued. “People will see that you can deal with difficult scenarios in a respectful way” says Powar, “and will build trust in you as a leader.”
To learn more about Powar’s methodology, watch the online class “Master Difficult Conversations to Become an Effective Leader“