Every workplace has friction—that’s the simple truth. Anytime you have a few people working together on something, differences surface that create drag. We shouldn’t be surprised when conflict or tensions arise. Instead, we should be prepared and have some tactics on hand to facilitate a cooperative working environment and healthier relationships. Friction has a bona fide upside.
In my decades of work in the field of Human Resources, I’ve learned that 3 major things have the potential to create workplace conflicts:
- Inadequate communication
- Lack of emotional control
- Indefinite goals and boundaries
Here’s an example of all three creating a common situation of friction:
Project X must be finished in two months. The lower level manager fails to set legible parameters on a project when expectations and roles are not defined for the work. As the manager delegates the project, too much is left to speculation. Co-workers attempt to complete the work, but soon run into interpersonal problems as different ideas emerge. Frustration increases, tempers flare, morale sinks, and passive aggressive sabotage and gossip start. In other words, gridlock. A few team members inform the manager; however, by then, emotion is driving the situation. Decision-making is maligned and communication continues to falter. The project is tanking.
What to do?
A lot of repair work is needed to get things back on track and keep the project moving forward. First—and this is important—ditch email as a resolution tool. A sit-down, face-to-face meeting is necessary, and a concise description of roles and responsibilities must be presented. But a few other things are invaluable, too.
It’s important to reestablish a healthy culture with the team and ensure acceptable behaviormoving forward. This shouldn’t be done by lecturing. It shouldn’t be expressed in an exasperated tone either. Rather, make sure you conduct your meeting by modeling respect and integrity. Assume the best in your co-workers and back it up with words and actions that make it clear. Graciousness and amiability should preside, not hostility and annoyance.
Get the Right “Game Face” On.? Prepare yourself. Your “game face” must be a commitment to the greater good plus good faith efforts to buoy the environment and create a better working situation. It’s crucial to find common ground. This can be done with a simple and sincere reference to everyone wanting to do well, or a mention of some of your company’s most important values, or by outlining the basic goals of the project. It may be wisest to use a bit of each.
Conflict = Opportunity for Improvement.? It’s normal to dislike friction. Just remember, excellent organizations and great leaders have a habit of transforming conflict and tensions into occasions that make things work more smoothly, efficiently, and improve the positive bonds between employees. Don’t shrink from this opportunity. Instead of dreading conflict or becoming paralyzed by it, realize that conflicts can harvest new ideas and innovation—not just in how your company works, but also in how co-workers connect with each other.
Grace, empathy, forgiveness, cooperation, and better listening can be the result. If you treasure-hunt in the situation and invite that same positive attitude from your employees during conflict, better times are ahead.
Mark A. Griffin is founder and Chief Consultant at In His Name HR LLC. He has over 20 years of HR experience. In His Name HR helps organizations build high-performance Human Resource programs.