Small businesses are not exempt from conflict. Where there are people, conflict can (and will) arise. Plain and simple.
But when not handled effectively, conflict can eat away at productivity, workplace relationships, and the success of your small business. In fact, a 2008 study showed that U.S. employees spent about 2.8 hours each week dealing with conflict, which amounts to about $359 billion in paid hours.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be a psychologist (or a therapist) to understand how to deal with it.
We’ve put together a few straightforward tactics that will help you deal with conflict so your team can get back to business.
Go to the Source (Fast)
One of the major agitators of any conflict is hearsay. As a message travels through multiple people, it changes, grows, and takes on new meanings.
Because of this, conflicts need to be dealt with by going to the source. Find the parties who are directly involved with the conflict and bring them together to talk it out (rather than letting messages go through other people). This should happen as soon as you hear about the conflict, not after a few days/weeks. Act fast so the conflict doesn’t grow and fester over time.
Once you have the people involved in the conflict in the same room, you can open the floor for conversation and even act as a mediator that facilitates appropriate communication. Give your team members a chance to talk about their issues — as miscommunication is what breeds conflict in the first place.
Make sure the parties involved in a conflict are removing emotion by taking a problem-oriented approach. Ask each to state what they think the problem is, and then help them navigate a solution that addresses both of their needs. Keep the focus on the problem, not the people.
Be the Voice of Reason
As a business leader, you ultimately have the final say when it comes to your employees. Therefore, in some situations, you’re going to need to step in and make the final decision for conflict resolution.
Being a leader means making tough calls sometimes — but it also means being the authority that relieves some of that pressure off employees. Rather than saying, “Just work it out you two!” you have the power to make decisions and to put a hard stop to on-going issues. Make sure everyone understands their role in the conflict, but don’t leave the issue unresolved.
Bring in an Unbiased Third Party
If you can’t act as an unbiased decision-maker in a conflict, you should consider bringing in someone who can. This can relieve any feelings of “taking sides” and also offers some fresh perspective on issues you feel too close to.
Reach out to a trusted mentor, an HR professional, or even an online advisor to get help when you really need it. These people can step in to help work through the conflict so you can concentrate on leading the business forward.
Document the Process
It’s a best practice to document any time your employees have a conflict so you have definitive notes you can look back on if a pattern begins to emerge.
Not only will your lawyer appreciate this step if termination ultimately becomes a possibility, but it acts as a physical record that you can show your employees if they want to debate the fact that on-going conflict has been an issue.
We’re humans—we forget things. Don’t let details slip through the cracks. Document the conflict resolution process every time.
Dealing with Conflict: Not Fun, But Necessary
Ronald Regan once said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
Peace within your business is a matter of managing conflict. If you can follow the tips outlined here, you’ll be on the right track any time a conflict arises.
Just remember: Business isn’t personal, but people are. Remind your team to be respectful of each other while dealing with conflict—and that the success of the business depends on their ability to get along.