Conflict is difficult. It can slow down projects, drain enthusiasm, and even damage relationships, but there’s no real way to completely avoid it when two or more people are working together. Work styles vary and personalities clash, which means disagreements are inevitable. But if the goal isn’t preventing conflict, what is it? The key to getting everyone within an organization to work well together is the ability to engage in productive conflict. Here are five HR tips for helping people work together productively, no matter their personalities.
1. Emphasize a common goal
People on a team are working towards a collective, shared goal, but when tempers get hot or disagreements occur, that can be hard to remember. Different people may have different ways of completing the same task, which can be frustrating if their teammates fail to recognize their methods as effective and useful.
By putting emphasis on a common goal, you can remind employees that they’re ultimately all on the same team. Try sharing project updates, revenue benchmarks, customer feedback, or any information that helps employees to measure their progress during monthly meetings or in a company bulletin or newsletter. Then, if and when conflict occurs, it will be easier for everyone to take a step back and realize that they’re all working towards the same outcome.
2. Respect and celebrate expertise
In the same vein, it’s important to remind employees that they can’t, and indeed shouldn’t, do everything. Even on the same team and same project, people have areas of expertise, specialties, and unique interests that make them well-suited to certain aspects of the business, and deferring to that expertise can help coworkers understand that they should be doing the same. When people feel valued and valuable to a group effort, they’ll likely do better work—and stop causing division by infringing on their coworkers’ tasks.
3. Understand their motivations
Understanding what motivates you and others is no mean feat, but knowing the difference between behavior styles is the best way to foster productive conflict in the long run. In Emotions of Normal People, published in 1928, author William Moulton Marston developed the basis for what we now know as the DiSC personality profile, which is used in businesses and organizations around the world to understand and develop their employees. The DiSC profile outlines four distinct styles of behavior that help program participants understand their unique motivations. This gives coworkers a shared language to discuss their needs in the workplace, making collaboration easier.
4. Be available to mediate
Sometimes, when a disagreement escalates, an outside voice is the best way to engage in productive conflict. But mediating a disagreement or argument is difficult, and can lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Creating a procedure that can be followed whenever you step in to mediate a conflict is a good way to take some of the anxiety out of the process.
The Do Not’s:
Do not just hope the conflict will solve itself
Do not meet with the parties separately
Do not try to change anyone’s viewpoint
Do not ignore the impact on other employees
Do meet with the conflicting parties together in a neutral setting
Do emphasize you’re not there to take sides
Do shut down inappropriate behavior such as name-calling or refusal to cooperate
Do close the meeting with specific actions each party can take to resolve the conflict and avoid future disagreements
You can actively encourage people to seek you out to help mediate and resolve conflicts and, as your efforts show that you really can help, the employees of your organization will feel more comfortable coming to you. Encourage your fellow HR professionals and company leadership to make themselves available as mediators, as well. This helps to build a culture of productive conflict.
5. Tailor your approach
Just as people have different behavior styles and motivations, they also have different ways of processing information, receiving criticism, conveying their thoughts, and so on. The first step towards tailoring your approach to disagreements—and getting others to do the same—is getting to know individual people within the organization.
If you’re already working on understanding their motivations, you’re doing the legwork, but the second, and arguably more important, part is to turn your understanding into action. When you know one employee is motivated by validation, and he’s not getting that from his team, or if another needs time to think through ideas before presenting them and they feels rushed, you can get to the source of the problem and find ways to address it. Keep in mind, this is something that everyone in your organization should be capable of doing, not just you, so getting buy-in is a critical first step.
While conflict is practically inevitable, it doesn’t have to be destructive. In fact, when people who behave and work differently solve disagreements productively, conflict can actually help create stronger teams. Take some of these HR tips back to your organization, and see how everyone can work together on overcoming differences.