Bridging differences between personalities is key to building a cohesive team.
As a leader, it’s critical to have systems in place where team members can communicate with each other in a respectful way and avoid conflict in the workplace. What’s surprising is how many otherwise effective business leaders don’t understand how to encourage communication, build trust, and break down the barriers that can prevent a team from performing at its maximum potential.
We’re at a moment in our culture where there are deep divisions—personally and philosophically. These divisions do not cease to exist when your team members enter the office, and they can pose a real threat to your business. As leaders, we can’t let real or perceived differences divide us as a team in the workplace. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a higher standard, lead by example, and bring our teams together to manage conflict in the workplace effectively.
Here’s how to do it.
You might be surprised to hear what your employees are holding back for fear that they might say the wrong thing or express an unpopular opinion about business operations. There needs to be an outlet for employees to express themselves; and as a leader, it’s part of the gig.
Casual conversations can be easy, but many avoid conflict at all costs, and leaders are sometimes the last to know when there are issues in the workplace. It’s up to you to provide an ear for your team members. You may not like everything you hear, but you’ll better understand the thoughts and motivations of your team members.
You’ll also be in a better place to address issues before they become bigger problems or to allay the fears or concerns of a particular person before they give up and decide to leave the company. Really listening to someone will inspire trust and loyalty—something you need if you’re to be effective in taking your company where you want it to go and become a truly great leader.
Adult Agreements to Manage Conflict
Here is the most important pact you can make with all the members of your organization:
“We are all adults. We are here for the same reasons. We act like adults. Adults don’t shoot each other down. Adults own up and bring mistakes to the table. Adults make hard decisions.”
I wish I could pin this up on every office door of every business, but I can’t be everywhere, so I leave it to you to encourage this agreement in your organization.
Encourage Team Culture
From a young age, we’re taught to notice differences—in shape, in color, in size. It’s how our brains develop and begin to understand the world around us. However, we can be at a disadvantage if we don’t eventually begin to look at the similarities between us.
As a leader, reinforce the idea that every member of the team is there for a common purpose, and that as a company you’re stronger when the whole team works together. And, this has to do with more than just company culture—it can affect your bottom line.
CPP, Inc.’s study, “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” showed that conflict in the workplace can account for nearly three hours lost per week for U.S. employees. That’s a cost of around $359 billion in paid hours, equivalent to 385 million workdays in a given year.
Conflict is bound to happen, but maintaining a positive and transparent team culture, encouraging common ground and connections will help to keep things professional and to quickly resolve any issues.
Make Your Workplace a Safe Place
We’re all human. We’ve got back stories and experiences that we don’t always share with the people around us. We all have times of struggle and times of celebration. As a business leader, don’t make assumptions about your team members. Tune in to the lives and experiences of the individuals who work for you every day.
It’s your job to help break down the barriers of your team and build trust: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is an excellent resource for tools to accomplish just that. Realize that your team members will have good days and bad days, and let them know that you support them. Doing so will not only let you keep your finger on the pulse of your team, but it will reduce conflict in the workplace
Seeing the Change
Follow these steps and you’ll begin to notice a difference—in your team and in yourself. The world outside your company door may be slow to change, but it’s up to business leaders to set a different standard in the workplace. Put your people first, listen to everyone’s concerns, enforce the adult agreement, and put a laser focus on the common goals you all share, while making the things that can divide us increasingly less important. Conflict in the workplace is bound to happen, but if you’ve got a system in place to manage it, your team can be stronger for it.