Conflict is a fact of life, and it happens in every workplace. As leaders, we’re unlikely to get through day-to-day operations without the occasional tough, perhaps heated, or even hair-raising discussion with an employee or colleague.
Conflicts can manifest overnight and should be managed. Because they can escalate quickly when we don’t make the time to have those difficult conversations.
Such conversations arise for many reasons. It may be a simple matter such as leave or a pay rise request, or more serious employee grievances or performance related issues.
No matter the nature of the issue, it’s important to deal with it straight away. Let it linger at your peril - that’s when things escalate. Going into the discussion with a careful and considered approach is wise. A difficult conversation, handled insensitively, can affect your relationship with the other party, and the wider workforce too – perhaps even your business relationships.
Fair Work Ombudsman Australia outlines the best practice steps for getting to grips with such conversations, making them easier and more constructive. These steps provide leaders and business owners with practical guidance, and they’re designed to help us avoid potential pitfalls, oversights and general mismanagement.
1. NO SMALL TALK
Begin the meeting by stating what the issue is right away. Don’t preface the conversation with unnecessary small talk – this gives a false impression.
2. STICK TO THE FACTS
Stick to the facts rather than relying on opinions or hearsay. Give examples where possible. Explain how the issue is impacting on your organisation. Most importantly, focus on the issue at hand, rather than the person.
Listen to your employee. Considering their point of view is vital. There could be a range of facts or situations you don’t know about. Keeping an open mind may help you consider alternative solutions.
4. BE PREPARED
Be prepared for your employee to react emotionally. Consider telling them in advance that they can bring a support person to the meeting, if they want to.
5. BE OBJECTIVE
Manage your own emotions as well. Stay calm and focus objectively on the issues.
The ideal outcome is an agreement, and you should aim for a mutually agreed plan. Then be consistent and have the smarts to follow through. The more resolute you are with this, the greater the probability of a successful outcome in the long term. That’s a win for everyone concerned.
There are complexities and ambiguities in every workplace. These simple strategies are designed to help you manage them. Take some time to measure your own processes against them, and tweak accordingly.
Want to mitigate conflict in the first place? Keep communication channels open. Your employees should be comfortable in discussions with you.
It takes time, skill and effort to lead people – so be brave and have the conversations that truly matter.