What to Do When Tension Threatens Teamwork

In Thursday’s post, I promised you some tangible actions you can take when you sense that workplace disagreements might be hampering productivity.  I think it’s a subject worth discussing. The print management services and other products and technologies we offer can boost your efficiency dramatically. But friction among employees can hold you back and undermine the positive atmosphere you have worked hard to create.

Fight Conflict with Communication

Hard feelings are only human. And they are going to happen inside your company. If it’s a harassment or legal issue, human resources needs to be involved. But if not, you can work to minimize the impact of employee disputes on office chemistry and your company’s fortunes. Here are some suggestions I’ve put together from my experience and research into the subject.

  1. Be Listening – Always

As a humble boss, you are sensitive in your personal dealings, but be sensitive to the office environment in general. Walk around, talk to people, try to get a sense for the atmosphere. Observe any changes in usual patterns of communication or interaction. Don’t be afraid to discretely ask about anything that catches your attention. It’s easier to deal with small issues, so don’t wait until they become bigger ones.

  1. Don’t Take a “Hands-off” Approach

You might think that your belief in empowering employees means you should stay out of the situation. That’s usually a mistake. Problems don’t fix themselves. Employees who are already invested in defending a point of view aren’t starting on a level playing field. They aren’t likely to see things clearly and consider other opinions fairly. They need your help.

  1. Listen To (and Appreciate) Both Sides

Use your well-developed empathy in this case, as well. Try to listen to each employee (individually) state his or her side of the situation as if you were in their shoes. Don’t be in a rush to pick a winner. Seldom is either one totally right or wrong. It’s okay to live in that “grey” area while you sort things out. That leads to more clarity and less bias in your reaction and follow-up.

  1. Remain Calm and Reassuring

Even if the problem you discover is a serious one, maintain your own composure, for two reasons. First, if you get upset, it may only inflame the actions of the other participants and make things worse. Secondly, your calm reaction reassures employees that they can speak freely and will prevent them from retreating into a defensive mode. You also keep future channels more open.

  1. Probe a Bit Deeper

Feelings matter. And often, the original disagreement has been dwarfed by hurt feelings that have been piled on along the way. Speak with both parties, separately and together, to uncover any insults or unkind interactions that magnified the problem. The participants may readily apologize for those indiscretions. But in many cases, once those personal feelings are addressed, the original issues seem less contentious and can be dealt with more effectively.

  1. Acknowledge Your Part in It

You may not feel you had any, of course. But that’s what humble bosses do. Perhaps you could have launched a new initiative differently, asked for feedback sooner, or thought of a better way to divvy up tasks. But once the employees see a boss they respect take some responsibility, they can blame each other a little less. That chemistry starts to come back.

  1. Resolve to Do Better

Think about (and discuss with the employees involved) how you can avoid this type of unpleasantness in the future. This accomplishes two things:

  • Your discussions might, in fact, identify possible steps that really will help head off similar disputes in the future, and
  • It gives the employees permission to feel that “this is over” and there will be no further repercussions or negative outcomes. It doesn’t mean you will forget what you learned, but it does mean all involved can move on and relax.

Keeping the Peace – and the Productivity

Disagreements among your people do have a positive side. In one sense, it often means that they care a great deal about their jobs and your company. But you need to channel it in a positive direction is essential to protecting your company’s potential.

We know a lot about that. We’ve been helping businesses dial-up efficiency since the day our company was founded, nearly 100 years ago. We’re grateful to our customers for rewarding our efforts with a third consecutive Best of Print and Digital award. And our ISO 9001:2015 certification helps ensure that our repeatable results will help your business, too.

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