Workplace conflict is often the result of miscommunication, different individual goals and values or the presence of a new member of the group. Individual members might initiate conflict as a means of gaining control and creating an "us" versus "them" mentality. When negative conflict happens, it is imperative for management to step in to resolve these issues. Under the right supervision, conflict is not always negative. Constructive conflict is an open and honest form of communication and debate between employees that encourages growth and respect among coworkers. When negative conflict occurs, however, communication breaks down, creating a stagnant and toxic work environment.
Management to Prevent Negative Conflict
Create an open flow of communication between yourself and your subordinates. Negative conflict often occurs when employees do not have good communication with management. When supervisors are difficult to approach or contact, the group might not have a clear idea about projects and expectations. This leads to resentment, especially if the only contact members have with supervisors is negative. Open communication between management and subordinates leaves employees feeling more valued, with a more clear understanding of expectations and goals.
Deal effectively with underperformers. When a group has a person who consistently underperforms, it causes rancor among coworkers. Meet privately with the employee to discuss the situation. Be open, honest and supportive. Remind him of any positive contributions he has given to the group in the past to remind him of his skills. Chances are, your employee has issues at home, an illness or is dealing with an outside stressor that affects his work. Give him targeted objectives and a timeline for improvements. Time off to deal with his problems might also be necessary.
Forbid public ridicule of team members, either by coworkers or by other members of managment. It only generates humiliation and anger on the afflicted team member. This type of management style is verbally abusive and leads to negative legal repercussions if allowed to continue. If an employee has difficulties with an assignment, discuss the issue privately in a respectful manner.
Identify the problem between the clashing employees. Meet with all employees involved in the conflict and uncover the facts relating to it. Do not define the relationship between the employees as bad or ridiculous. Stay rational and listen to the facts. Discover the source of the possible negativity, and let them detail the issues they feel are important.
Change the warring employees' impressions of each other. According to Adriaan Groenewald of The Manager website, people often treat perceptions as real, so it is important to change this. Encourage conflicting team members to construct positive images of each other and identify how their relationship already works. By allowing them to air their grievances and to change perceptions, the tendency to dwell on supposed misdeeds diminishes.
Allow constructive conflict among team members. Constructive conflict is the practice of allowing lively debate, open discussion and positive resolutions. According to David Peck, president of Leadership Unleashed, when employees feel empowered to debate and resolve issues in a respectful and honest manner, the results are often better than those reached in a unit that suppresses conflict.
Positive reinforcement almost always leads to better performance. You don't have to be cheerful all the time. Be genuine and honest.
Keep meticulous notes of any ongoing conflicts for future reference, particularly if one employee seems to be the source of continuing problems.
Provide written warnings of insubordination, poor performance and other workplace violations. This helps to avoid lawsuits later if you must terminate the employee for repeated violations.