Your employees spend at least 40 hours a week with their coworkers. So it’s only natural that they’re not always going to see eye to eye, and conflict will arise. All that time spent together is also the reason that it’s so vital for employee conflict to be constructively managed and preemptively planned for. Here are some ways HR can do that:
Strategic culture: A company culture should include values that help employees keep the big picture in mind and avoid petty conflict. For instance, one of Bamboo’s company values is “assume the best.” This means we remember that everyone in the company is doing the very best they can. It’s amazing how much conflict can be avoided when you assume that the intentions of all the people around you are good (even if you don’t always agree with them).
Open communication: Transparency helps your employees know they can trust you. Another company value of ours is to “be open.” Employees should be open to new ideas regardless of where they come from. We also try to be open in our communication with employees and encourage them to openly communicate with each other. We openly disagree. We openly discuss. Even our CEO will tell employees to be open with him if they have suggestions. Conflict often arises when employees feel bottled up or that they can’t openly talk about things.
Careful hiring: We’ve all worked with someone who loves creating conflict. Any subject brought up becomes a heated debate. No one can say anything without offending that employee and starting a fire-fight. Hire passionate people, yes. But don’t hire people who thrive on creating conflict and drama. It will only cause problems for your other employees. A great place to check in on this is when you call references. Ask about how the candidate interacted with peers. You’ll be happy you did. Everyone has conflict sometimes, but no one likes working with people who create conflict all the time.
Clear expectations: You probably assume your employees know they should treat each other respectfully, but it never hurts to communicate that clearly. Recognize employees when they work through problems thoughtfully. Discuss how you expect employees to treat each other, and don’t be afraid to give gentle reminders if you see employees struggling to treat each other that way.
Accept conflict: This one might seem a little contradictory, but it’s not. Conflict should be managed well, but it shouldn’t be avoided altogether. Remember the “be open” thing? Well, sometimes being open means that you have to tell someone you disagree with them, and that can create conflict. The way you manage that conflict determines whether the conflict is constructive or catastrophic. So don’t punish employees for having constructive criticism. Don’t discourage all conflict. Just discourage employees from having constant, childish, or unresolved conflicts. Your company will be better off when your employees challenge each other because it helps them grow.