When conflicts arise, it’s the manager’s job to keep everyone moving forward, putting them together to work out technical differences or reach a compromise on resources. Even in the case of a heated debate, an effective manager can lead the team toward a decision that’s workable for everyone.
Sometimes, however, team members seem to talk past each other, arguing about peripheral issues or focusing more on each other’s personalities than anything else. These are likely indicators that the people involved simply don’t work well together. If their disagreement is surrounded by a discontent that permeates all of their interactions, cooperation stops.
It’s a thorny problem to confront, and resolving it involves more than listening to both sides and steering them toward a solution based on merit. How, then, do you forge a truce?
- Actively Listen. It’s critical that managers pay close attention to their team’s dynamics at all times. Personality clashes aren’t the kind of thing most people like to talk about, so you can’t depend on others to clue you in when issues start to smolder. Even as you’re putting your team together, pay attention to personalities and consider how well individuals will mesh. While it’s reasonable to expect everyone to act professionally, sometimes people take such opposite approaches that avoiding conflict may be very difficult.
- Deal With It Promptly. If you spot trouble, respond in a timely manner. As uncomfortable as they are to deal with, personnel issues rarely take care of themselves. Indeed, leaving people to work out conflicts on their own may only intensify the problem. When you see arguments becoming personal, take the position of mediator, quickly.
- Listen to Both Sides. Be sure to listen to all parties and look for more than venting sessions. You need to understand the specifics of the conflict and make them support their complaints with specifics. Most important; seek possible solutions from each person.
- Remain Impartial. Your role here is to be a mediator, not a judge. That means you should understand the issues from both perspectives, with an eye toward finding some middle ground. When talking to one person, try to educate them about the other’s point of view, without taking sides.
- Seek a Compromise. Seek recommendations from both parties on what approach might ease the tension. Maybe it’s more frequent communication, or a change in scheduling, responsibilities or processes. Maybe it’s an agreement to exchange notes before documentation is widely distributed. Regardless, encourage the parties to find pragmatic, manageable ways to work together.
- Document It. Follow up your conversations with emails to make sure everybody’s clear on what was discussed and agreed to. Focus on the details of the agreed-upon plans to move forward rather than on the complaints.
Of course, situations vary. While you’ll have to tailor your strategy to the personalities and issues involved, your intent should always be to focus everyone on the work they’re responsible for, and the goals they have to meet. You probably won’t turn your clashing team members into close colleagues, but you can provide them with an avenue to manage their conflict and focus on getting their work done efficiently.
For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills – including managing conflict on your team – please contact Jim Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org.