For business owners and managers dealing with economic uncertainty on top of the usual challenges of running an organisation, conflict is more likely than ever to rear its ugly head. According to James Squires, Managing Director of Austin Banks “People don’t come to work to do a bad job or to be difficult so you need to get to the bottom of what's causing the difficulties as quickly as possible. If conflict is not dealt with early on, it can lead to strained relationships and sap the time, energy and productivity of you and your team”.
When dealt with positively, conflict can actually be a catalyst for change that will benefit the organisation. As a manager, you are never likely to deal with conflict perfectly, but here are a few guidelines to help you handle the most difficult people:
Talk to people instead of about them. Dealing with conflict directly is uncomfortable and can lead to some initial upset, but it cuts down on the mindreading and the deep resentment that can set in when problems are not dealt with directly. Timing and tact will always have their place, but make sure you still handle conflict eyeball to eyeball.
Maintain a positive mindset as you deal with difficult people. Look for ways to communicate with difficult people in a positive manner and remember that difficult people are not necessarily bad people. They may simply see things from a different perspective than others. Make sure you really listen. You will learn more with your mouth closed and ears open about what is at the route of the problem. Ask "how" questions to get input on what will help to improve the situation and provide clear suggestions to avoid a similar situation from happening in the future.
Stay focused on a common solution. Time and energy are wasted proving someone is right or wrong. Instead of trying to establish blame, try to establish a win, win way out for those involved. Your questions should uncover what each party wants and often people’s wants are not mutually exclusive. People’s positions also tend to soften when meaningful dialogue is underway – most of us don’t want to live with conflict and would prefer to find a solution and get along.
Build rapport & trust. With email and messaging systems, work sometimes turns into a mechanical process. You have a much better chance of resolving conflict if you get to know your staff on a personal as well as a professional level. Learn more about their hobbies, their family, their lives. Foster strong connections. These will go a long way towards helping you when work relationships are under strain.
Some things can't be fixed. If someone is behaving in a difficult way and you have tried to resolve the issue without improvement maybe the person is simply not a good fit for your organisation. In these situations you can consider a move to a different area of the business or maybe disciplinary action – particularly in cases where bullying or poor performance is involved. If disciplinary action is deemed necessary it is recommended that you seek professional advice to ensure that correct procedures are followed – particularly with difficult people!
So, the next time you are dealing with a difficult person at work, try to follow some of these guidelines. It is possible to turn a conflict situation into a positive outcome for the business and for the individuals involved when handled correctly. There are many training courses available on dealing with difficult people – you will find free courses online on websites like www.youtube.com as well as the more traditional classroom based courses from local training providers. Good luck!