Why you don’t like dealing with employee conflict

| July 19, 2016

Why you don’t like dealing with employee conflict

Managing workplace clashes can take the business of running a business to a new level.  Pinpointing the explanations for your less than enthusiastic approach to conflict can help you react differently next time a problem arises.

Here are a few common reasons why some small business owners don’t like dealing with conflict, along with a few suggestions to try.

You have “real” work to do

Concentrating too much on office spats can make you feel like a babysitter.  When faced with the pressures of balancing an impossible budget or overseeing the complicated details of a large project, you may believe that personnel squabbles are secondary to your success.  Trapped in a conversation about how someone hurt the speaker’s feelings can make you feel like a psychiatrist, a parent, or an unwilling confidante – all of which you see as being outside the scope of your responsibility to ensure the company makes a profit.

What you may not understand, though, is that managing conflicts with employees does help you improve the bottom line.  The costs associated with ongoing conflict can be staggering and it’s in your best interest to solve problems before they escalate to the point where valuable employees leave, production screeches to a halt, or customer service suffers.  A company’s reputation is an aggregation of its products, people, and its culture.  If two organizations provide identical services and one has employees who let their internal strife leak to customers, it’s not unreasonable to think that clients will choose the one with good conflict management approaches.

The thought of untangling the details wears you out

Straightening out disagreements between employees is much like taking a handful of enmeshed chains and lockets from the bottom of a jewellery box and trying to figure out which knot goes with which chain.  It’s easier to toss them back in and move on.  The same is true when you can see that something should be done, but feel overwhelmed with the complicated details.  Sorting through who said what, who did what to whom, and why they did it when they did it takes time.  Add to that the expectation that you will make a wise, Solomon-like decision once you have the details and it’s normal to want to head for the hills.

However, it doesn’t really matter where you start just as long as you set off with an open mind and listen to what those involved tell you – which includes reading between the lines.  Deciphering that “always” and “never” may not really mean every single time or that an employee’s seething over a co-worker’s corner office is probably more about feeling excluded than it is about seniority issues is key.  Asking open-ended questions is an effective method to gain understanding about what motivates people.  It’s also a great way to sift through convoluted issues involving personalities, systems, and policies.

You think people’s problems reflect poorly on your reputation

Some small business owners think that if they keep quiet about HR problems no one will be the wiser.  That’s like putting green paint on a dying plant and asking others to believe is thriving.  What you may not realize is that your reputation could already be suffering because others, especially those looking for something to criticize, can clearly see what you think you’re hiding.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see dysfunction.

Putting a plan together to resolve conflicts actually paints you as a leader, a problem-solver, and a manager who has the capacity to fix just about anything.  Who wouldn’t want that reputation?

You can’t see the problem

Remember when you were a kid and someone would say something you didn’t want to hear, so you’d put your fingers in your ears and sing, “La la la la” to drown them out?  You may not see the conflict, but rest assured if someone is bringing an issue to you, it’s real to him.  Responses like, “Can’t you tell he’s kidding?” or, “Just get over it” or even, “It’s really not that big of a deal” are responses that let people know you’re not up for the job of managing issues.

Ask your staff to find a different way to explain the situation to you.  Ask for concrete examples of how specific behaviours affect the job at hand, make for decreased productivity, are causing fractured communication, or simply how the business might not be reaching its potential for greatness.  Choose your words carefully so you can help them (and you) think about conflict differently.