When faced with a problem, it often helps to talk it out with someone. This is a great collaborative strategy for problem-solving. Everyone has a different personality, and everyone sees the world in a different light.
What happens when the problem you have is with another person? A common answer is, “I just need to vent, to get this off my chest.” At what point does it turn from problem-solving to gossip?
A major subject in many offices is conflict resolution. Every office has conflict; however, not every office handles it the same way. That is why this is a topic that should be discussed clearly with your team.
Workplaces are full of diverse personalities who communicate in unique ways. These differences in personalities are what make conflict resolution an uncomfortable and touchy subject.
The first step is to acknowledge that there is a conflict and to note that conflict is fine until it becomes heated. This acknowledgment should occur quickly and privately between the two parties involved. Only if they cannot come to a resolution will this involve another person.
A private resolution should entail the two parties meeting and understanding the following ground rules:
- Use “I” statements only -- “I felt offended when …,” “I was disappointed upon hearing …, “I was under the impression that we were supposed to do things this way.”
- No personal attacks
- No crying, yelling, or extreme emotions
- Respect for each person’s feelings and words
When voices raise, listening stops.
Next, each person is allowed to speak concisely and fully. Statements that are not allowed include the following:
- “You always …”
- “I never …"
These are not productive or true statements. No one always or nevers.
Each time we have had a conflict brought to our attention and we implement these steps, the problem is handled professionally and solved pretty quickly.
We often see that office managers feel the need to step in to solve the problem for the team members that are having a disagreement. This is fine if the timing is right.
Intervention may cause more harm than good, though, if issues that workers might have settled on their own quickly become more emotionally charged because the doctor or office manager is now involved. The flip side to this argument is that conflict that continues to be swept under the rug can divide an office and cause greater problems.
How do you know when it is the right time to step in to help resolve an interoffice conflict with the parties involved? These are our recommendations for handling conflict:
- Bullying or harassment of any kind should never go unchecked and be allowed to continue. Immediate involvement with management that includes documentation and possible punishment should take place as soon as it is brought to light.
- If an employee asks you for help, the first question to ask them is, “Did you address this with the other person?” If the answer is “But she will yell at me,” ask the employee to handle the situation privately first. It is better for the problem to be resolved between the involved parties.
- If the situation is taking up valuable time or creating a toxic environment in the office, management may want to expedite the resolution process by getting the parties together.
Healthy conflict management is imperative for cohesiveness in the office. Conflict is not bad until it becomes heated or divisive. Conflict merely means that there are differences of opinion, and that is exactly how an office will continue to grow. It’s also important for coworkers to learn to handle their own issues with each other. Only as a last resort should a manager step in to solve the problem.
Denise Ciardello is co-founder of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm. Ciardello’s book, The Human Side of Business, is a guide to building a cohesive team while creating a successful, productive practice. She can be contacted at denise@GTSgurus.com.
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