At home, at work or in any other area of life, conflict is unpleasant at best and downright toxic at times. It's probably even more so when it arises within the team you're leading. It leads to unhappy workers and it can ultimately affect your team dynamics even long after the conflict is resolved. Nip conflict in the bud with these 10 easy practices so that you never have to deal with team members locking horns.
Listen first, talk second
This is a good communication rule to apply to every interaction, but especially so as a manager. You want to know your employees well enough to know what kind of criticism they respond to and with what kind of personalities they work best. Listening is a key element in understanding your team members.
Set clear expectations
Not having clear expectations can be a huge point of conflict. You don't want your employees to ever be confused about what needs to be done and who needs to do it. One way to do this is to make sure that everyone in your team is aligned with your vision and mission - in other words, that they know what you're trying to achieve. Even if you're a more laissez-faire kind of manager who relies on her employees' diligence, you need to make it clear that you won't micromanage them. The key: never assume anyone knows what you want.
Create a culture that says 'we complement each other'. This will in turn result in mutual respect for each other's skills and work. When your employees respect each other, the words 'conflict resolution' might never enter your managerial vocabulary. Respect is a yellow brick road to effectively solve disagreements.
Spend significant time on new projects and new hires
This goes hand in hand with setting expectations. You want clear goals, roles, expectations, communication guidelines, etc. Spending some time to set things up means that you're potentially avoiding spending a lot more time (and your and your employees' emotional well-being) to fix things later on.
Discourage gossip and gossipers
You should have zero tolerance for this. Gossip in the workplace is lethal. Whatever the gossip is about, it becomes personal and it can really distort the way employees see themselves within your team. Other (more accepted) Discourage cliques and hire happy people (it's not sure whether people gossip because they're unhappy or they're unhappy because they gossip - just be on the safe side).
Get to know the different personalities in your team
This can be as simple as using water cooler chat to get to know your employees or as elaborate as getting them to take a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. If you do decide to go with the personality test, make sure your attitude makes it clear to your employees that there's no right or wrong and that you simply want to get to know them.
Team building activities are not enough to achieve this. Encourage social outings, take lunches together, discuss life outside of work (supposedly the other two thirds of our lives). According to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, happiness reaches to three degrees of separation within our social network. So if one of your employees is happy, chances are it will spread to the others, provided they are on friendly terms.
Don't criticize, complain or blame
Don't lash out over mistakes your employees make, and be quick to forgive and forget. Chances are your employees know what they did wrong and are already feeling bad enough. You can, of course, guide them diplomatically if they are on the wrong course, but don't fly off the handle, and most importantly don't make them feel belittled. Here's why: "When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity." (Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People)
Survey your employees
You can conduct an anonymous survey to get the overall feel of the office. Employees will usually hide how they really feel about how things are working in the office because they fear it might affect their job. But the anonymity of an online survey can get them to open up easily and you can get real feedback from them. Just like you'd use a survey to gauge customer satisfaction, you can use one to better understand your employees' satisfaction. You can use SurveyMonkey, QuickTapSurvey or even Google Forms, depending on the size of your team and your budget.
When conflict arises, embrace it
Don't run away from it. Conflict is an opportunity for growth. You will learn a lot about your team and about yourself through the process of solving the conflict. You have the power to turn a negative experience in a learning experience both for your team and yourself.