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Mastering conflict management in 3 easy steps

Companies can go through rough patches, much like relationships. Also, just like in a relationship, putting out fires as quickly as possible is the key to maintaining a healthy balance. Knowing how to manage tensions that arise within teams is essential, as it affects employees’ individual and collective wellbeing and the stability of your business. When should you be proactive, and when should you be reactive? How can you de-escalate conflicts in the workplace? How can you identify and avoid potential tension? Let Brigad give you the keys to successful conflict management.

Tension in the workplace – a danger for staff and businesses

Sometimes difficult to avoid, tension at work shows up more often than you think and it, unfortunately, has an impact on your team’s motivation and effectiveness to do their jobs. Conflict, loss of motivation, absenteeism, and burnout can all prove tremendously damaging for workers, and repercussions frequently impact businesses’ day-to-day operations. It is therefore essential to spot potential problems, take measures to de-escalate situations, and put in place initiatives to avoid them happening again.

Team leaders: ambassadors for team wellbeing and business success

The secret to a high-performing company is in its employees’ wellbeing and their willingness to work together. As guarantors of team cohesion, managers are responsible for the quality of their team members’ working relationships. That said, learning to manage tension and eliminate the risk of psychosocial imbalance is not all about banging fists on tables and demanding calm. Instead, noticing early signs, identifying the causes of a problem, and fostering smooth and friendly day-to-day business interactions are all valuable skills.

Point 1 – Notice early warning signs. Harbour a healthy work atmosphere, conducive to collaboration and team cohesion

Managers should advocate for trust rather than wariness within their teams, respect rather than suspicion, and collaboration rather than competition. Businesses are all about individual teams working to a common goal, and it goes without saying that employees should be able to evolve and thrive in teams that drive values of unity and harmony. Only this level of cohesion will encourage effective collaboration. Therefore, managing staff tension with confidence and creating team synergy, where each team member is fully invested, requires developing a feeling of belonging and reinforcing social links between team members.

Clearly define roles and responsibilities to avoid conflict

Poorly dividing up tasks and responsibilities between employees can be a source of tension among team members. On the contrary, when roles and expectations are clearly defined, everyone knows what they have to do and how to do it. This is essential for avoiding misunderstandings. Each team member is confident in the knowledge of where they fit into the company’s common goal, without treading on their colleagues’ toes. Everyone has their space and there is a space for everyone!

Avoid tension by encouraging a feeling of belonging and personal investment

The feeling of belonging to a team is an important notion when dealing with tension at work. When individuals can identify with and feel attached to a project, a group, or a company, even the most diverse of teams naturally rally around common values and goals. The relationship that workers have with each other and with their hierarchy is indissociable from this feeling of belonging and taking ownership. It helps individuals feel involved and give the best of themselves.

Involve teams in company decisions

No one likes to be micromanaged; it is better to foster an environment of trust rather than control. Afford your team members as much independence as possible, and encourage taking initiatives by asking for their input when making decisions. A flatter company structure – where managers and colleagues collaborate and bounce off each other – is at the heart of this “win-win” strategy. Not only does it harness the diversity within a team, where each member is a source of fresh ideas for the company, but it also reinforces team spirit, motivation, and job satisfaction. Individuals know that they all play a precious role in the workings of the company.

The concept of Team Building

Making its debut in the 1990s, “Team Building” helps to better unite employees and fuel complicity in a professional setting. The concept aims to develop team spirit and reinforce bonds between co-workers. What’s more, employees appreciate the opportunity to spend some relaxing time in an informal setting on “away days” or at themed seminars. In doing so, they get to know each other and understand how they can better work together and build partnerships that will prove indispensable back in the workplace.

Point 2 – Isolate small disputes before they lead to something bigger

Communication is at the heart of effective management. Many of us tend to keep lots of small gripes to ourselves and brush over inconsequential misunderstandings, but atmospheres like this at work can prove to be the perfect breeding ground for staff frustrations and conflict. However, effective communication helps teams to bond and can improve motivation, especially in particularly challenging periods (like Christmas and New Year celebrations for restaurants, or epidemics and public health crises in medical care). Instead of waiting for niggling frustrations to develop into full conflicts, avoid the possibility of these situations arising in the first place by giving everyone the platform to express their opinion – albeit constructively – and share their ideas. Workplace relationships will only improve as a result, as team members learn to understand each other, encouraging a collective conscience to emerge.

Being open with information and involving everyone

First and foremost, full transparency is one of the keys to successful communication, while keeping secrets from some or all staff is the source of numerous misunderstandings, mistakes, and tensions. It is therefore paramount to keep your teams up to date with how things are going, last-minute changes, and other news and information that is important to the day-to-day running of an establishment.

Sharing difficulties and finding solutions

When employees are not given the opportunity to ask for support or tell you about difficulties they may be facing, this can build up and lead to resentment. Knowing how to manage tension is also about allowing sensitive topics to come to the surface and allowing each team member to express themselves. By sharing anecdotes, staff can shine a spotlight on the problems they face, find the words to describe how they feel, and most likely work out a solution. In this context, communication is indispensable for avoiding a build-up of tension.

Listening and identifying underlying tension

For managers, regular catch-ups are a good way to take the temperature of a team, ensure individual team members’ wellbeing, and identify any early signs of tension. Communicating is not just passing on information from above. It is also taking the time to listen to ideas coming from all corners of an establishment. Employees might use this platform sometimes as a cry for help, or other times to share a genuinely promising lead for improving the company’s structure. Therefore, in order to adequately manage tension in a team, it is essential to be attentive to staff members and keep your finger on the pulse.

The earlier decisions are made, the easy it is to curb any damage. Managers should, therefore, be on permanent lookout for any early warning signs or seeds of potential conflict in order to swiftly implement adequate measures. Being attentive and maintaining close professional relationships with employees is the best way to monitor for the slightest sign of disagreement or discontent. Opportunities for regular feedback are also conducive to detecting underlying tension.

Garnering trust and bonding teams

Communication is the stand-out way to develop healthy team spirit and encourage collaboration. It reinforces trust and plays against any feelings of exclusion. By allowing individuals to get to know one another, learn about each other, and understand different roles at work, people feel more free to express their problems and get creative in finding solutions. Communication reassures people. It helps to develop strong links between colleagues and plays a large role in ridding teams of tension.

How to encourage dialogue and simplify communication between team members

From internal messaging tools to idea boxes and weekly group meetings, the techniques for improving dialogue between team members are numerous. This can also be achieved through more casual break-time chats by the coffee machine, lunches or dinners outside the workplace, or briefings at the start of each shift. A friendly, laid-back atmosphere will help people get to know each other, understand one another, and share worries and concerns. There are many opportunities during the working day when workers can build trust and understanding.

Point 3 – when conflicts get out of hand, it’s time to step in

When the storm hits, manager intervention is often the only way to manage staff conflicts appropriately. An official mediation process can be a tremendously effective tool for dealing with conflicts, from the root cause to the psychological and wellbeing impact they can have. Indeed, managers must be capable of de-escalating altercations and taking steps to avoid them happening again. Here, the importance of clear and effective communication cannot be overstated.

There are two sides to every story

One has to understand that anyone involved in a conflict feels like the only victim – everyone perceives situations in their own way and feels differently as a consequence. People involved in conflicts – at work or otherwise – are too often guilty of not putting themselves in their opponent’s shoes and trying to understand their point of view. Emotions take over any rational decisions and conflict can kick off. The goal for you as a manager is to encourage all parties to change their perception and no longer see the situation as an opposition, in order to come to an appropriate agreement and end the conflict.

By allowing staff to express their own point of view, differences in perception can be exposed, helping open-minded staff to understand how the other person feels and why they are reacting in a certain way. This can be a powerful catalyst for solving misunderstandings and helping disagreements give way to solutions. As with many areas of life, when both parties learn to understand each other’s way of thinking, future sources of tension can be solved at an earlier stage before they turn into more significant disputes.

Healthy and constructive discussions

In these such cases, the mediator is in charge of setting the tone and the conditions for discussion. The success of a mediation process is contingent on the effective participation of the mediator. It is up to you to create an environment that is conducive to constructive discussion. To achieve this, you must pay attention to what each party says and forget about taking sides or any prejudices you may have about individual staff members. Stick to the facts! Staff look to you to set an example and install a climate of trust within which everyone involved feels comfortable enough to fully express themselves, while taking the time to listen attentively.

Positive reinforcement

Portioning blame is not always constructive and generally only serves to worsen conflict situations. Rather than attacking somebody for their flaws, why not try focussing on their good qualities? Be caring. Limit the negative psychological impact that workplace conflicts can have and be the guarantor of the safe environment that all employees have the right to work in. Employees will only come out of the experience more motivated by the recognition of their work and the respect that they have been shown.

Aim to play down tension instead of feeding into it

Discussions during times of conflict should be neutral and devoid of any passive aggressiveness. “You could try harder…”, insinuating that one person should make more effort than another, or “That seems obvious”, which can give the impression that you think the person is incapable of understanding simple concepts… Little digs and subtly-veiled criticisms like this only add fuel to the fire – a worker who feels that their personality is being criticised and their professional contributions side-lined is a less motivated worker, who risks causing damage to your organisation.

The solution? Adaptability and flexibility

Sometimes, try as you might, communication is just not enough to solve a problem and you have to envisage going down other routes. Your company’s day-to-day organisation could be reimagined in order to avoid stress-inducing situations. For some, simply working from home (where the job role permits it) is a great way to get on top of the infamous work-life balance, thereby alleviating work-related stress. From a manager’s perspective, it may be worth exploring how to reorganise schedules around individuals’ personal constraints, meaning they arrive at work refreshed and ready to get stuck in. When faced with irreconcilable differences between staff members, redeploying one or both of them to other parts of the business can be a great way to solve recurring problems while reassuring them that their work is valued, their contributions are useful, and they are trusted.

Take a look at how you run your organisation

Pinning everything on others is an easy tactic for dealing with problems, but it invariably has damaging effects. It feeds into existing tensions, accentuating the feeling of injustice, and leads to workers losing motivation. Everyone should be able to take a good look at themselves and accept, where necessary, their portion of the blame. Needless to say, this also extends to management! Reflecting on your actions, words, and behaviours, and thinking about ways in which you could do better is a great way to develop and grow yourself and those around you.

After all…

By making sure employees feel valued, focussing on effective communication, and fostering a healthy work atmosphere, managers and business owners can confidently manage tension in their teams, solving problems and inspiring others to achieve their full potential. Naturally, these tips will bring (back) trust and motivation to your team.

So, what are you waiting for? Why not start putting things in place now?

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