Whether navigating tricky conversations or counseling employees through conflict, there are always going to be difficult workplace issues that crop up. How you handle these obstacles will go a long way toward determining the atmosphere of your office. Will the office be a space where you and your team can speak and work freely, or will it be a place that stifles creativity and operates out of fear discipline? All workplaces are comprised of imperfect individuals that have good intentions but will still inevitably fail, struggle, or cause conflict. Mistakes happen, errors will be made, and feelings might get hurt. Having a plan in place for how you will respond to these things and mitigate the fallout will set you on a path to a peaceful and successful work environment.
When difficult times arise, consider trying out one or more of the following five proven strategies:
1. Practice Patience
A good rule of thumb when faced with a difficult situation like a disgruntled employee or a grumpy client is to take a deep breath and just listen. Many times, if you can help the person you are interacting with feel heard, the situation will de-escalate on its own. We all long to be understood and valued, so when you patiently give those around you ample space to air their grievances and vent their frustrations (even if they are unfounded or if you disagree with them) you are feeding the side of them that longs to be seen and appreciated. Once they are done talking, take a brief moment to gather your own thoughts; then, calmly restate what they said to you and work with them to achieve a solution that works for everyone involved.
2. Grow in Gratitude
If you can cultivate an office culture of thankfulness, you may be surprised at how much the attitudes of everyone in your workspace elevate. Recognizing your employees’ successes and telling them often that you appreciate their hard work will help them feel valued, and will often build a spirit of excitement and congeniality, which acts like a hedge of protection against the small, everyday inconveniences and irritations that can crop up.
3. Bite the Bullet
While it can be tempting to sweep conflict under the rug – especially if you personally dislike conflict – it is important that as the leader of your company you set an example for those looking up to you. Instead of pretending like issues are not there, just confront them. The longer you allow things to lurk under the surface, the larger the feelings of resentment and frustration will become.
Clients and employees that feel slighted or not taken care of can quickly turn into disgruntled people loudly voicing their displeasure to others. This can create a heavy fog of bitterness and backbiting that reduces productivity and inhibits work/life harmony. The best way to stop this in its tracks is to confront issues head on as soon as you become aware of them. Don’t let them grow into something large and uncomfortable. Have a hard conversation, if needed, and get to the bottom of things as soon as possible.
4. Try A Positivity Sandwich
This technique has been utilized by teachers and coaches for decades; it is incredibly simple, and requires little to no practice or preparation to master. You start by identifying the issue, problem, or behavior that needs to be discussed or brought to someone’s attention. Then, you build the sandwich by determining something positive to say before the difficult thing and then something else positive to say immediately following the difficult part of the conversation.
If, for example, you need to reprimand an employee for their habit of late arrival, you may choose to start the conversation by affirming how valuable they are for keeping the office running smoothly. Then you can discuss the need for them to be punctual. Afterward, you could end the conversation by thanking them for being an important member of the team. Most people are eager to please and will respond positively to this process. You are still engaging in the difficult but necessary correction, and you are doing it in a way that still calls out greatness in that person and affirms their value to your firm.
5. Pinpoint Personalities
Everyone has a unique personality and perspective; the more that you can understand those around you – where they are coming from and how they see the world – the better you can anticipate their responses to situations and build them up positively. If you know, for example, that one of your employees is incredibly analytical and processes information slowly and methodically, you will know not to require them to take the lead on projects that require spontaneous and freewheeling thought.
Setting people up for success, or playing to their strengths, is a surefire way to foster a spirit of collaboration and positivity in your workplace. Consider having your team take a personality assessment, and then tabulate the results to share with everyone. The more equipped everyone is to work together well, the less likely it will be that you find yourself managing conflicts in the first place.
Consider starting this week off by evaluating the personalities of everyone on your team and creating action steps you can take to play to each person’s strengths in the future.
Many simple and effective resources get created when I’m coaching my one-on-one clients. An issue or situation comes up and I create a resource tool to help them get an even better result. In this example, my business owner coaching client wanted to better hold his support team accountable, so I created a performance assessment tool. This enhances regular communication with each team member about their specific performance of what they are responsible for. It lets the team member feel good about their progress and it helps the business owner feel more confident about what is being done and at what level of performance. You will benefit, just as my clients have, from utilizing this simple and effective performance assessment for every member of your team. Customize it for each person on your team based on their job description. More specifically, each team member should customize it for themselves, and you approve it. Schedule a meeting every 90 days to review progress in each area you are measuring.