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Rebuild Trust to Take Your Employees from Conflict to Collaboration

The proven seven-step process to turn conflict on its head

Conflict in the workplace happens because people focus on their differences instead of what they have in common. If you do not manage conflict in the workplace effectively, even the smallest disagreement can evolve into deep mistrust between colleagues. At its most extreme, the outcome is a divided workforce and destruction of innovation and productivity.

In this article, you’ll learn a seven-step strategy for rebuilding trust in the workplace – the key to taking your employees from conflict to collaboration.

What creates conflict in the workplace?

In their research investigating the causes of conflict in the workplace, Jehn and Mannix (2001) found there are three main types of conflict:

  • Task conflict, which centers on goals and work details
  • Process conflict, which focuses on the who and how of task delegation and accomplishment
  • Relationship conflict, which involves disagreements of personal, and non-work-related differences (for example, deeply held religious or political beliefs)

Perhaps the most destructive of these three causes of conflict is relationship conflict, but the result of all three is broken trust between colleagues, teams, and departments.

How can a leader rebuild trust between colleagues in conflict?

As a leader, it is incumbent upon you to identify conflict at an early stage and act to resolve it amicably. The temptation to ‘take sides’ should be avoided, for while this may produce short-term gains, such action will ultimately leave the reasons for conflict intact and cause distrust of you as a leader. Instead, you should follow this seven-step strategy to rebuild trust in the workplace and move your employees from conflict to collaboration.

Step 1: Acknowledge the conflict

You must understand the conflict that is present. The first step is to observe what has happened and understand what it is that most aggrieves your employees. Speak to people in person. When you do so, be non-judgmental. This is the information gathering process.

Step 2: Provide a forum for discussion

It is essential that employees are given a safe and non-threatening environment to discuss their issues and emotional responses. Ways in which this can be achieved include team meetings, one-to-ones, and focus groups. As colleagues begin to discover their effect on others, attitudes should begin to change.

Step 3: Support is essential

In this process of emotional discovery, it is essential that employees are provided with support mechanisms. You are seeking an evolution from blame to resolution, and it is your responsibility to remain an impartial facilitator of this process. Share insights and information, and engage employees in this process.

It is also likely that you will need support, too, from other managers, executive coaches, or mentors.

Step 4: Help people to see the conflict in context

When in conflict, people tend to refocus. They lose sight of the big picture, and instead put their effort into winning what they now consider to be an important personal battle. Refocus their energy by reminding them of joint goals, and the benefits of collaboration.

Step 5: Encourage people to take responsibility

Now that minds have been refocused, the big picture re-established, and emotional responses identified, it is time to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Discuss what lessons have been learned, and then help people to understand that their emotional response is itself a causation of the emotional response of others in the conflicted state.

Step 6: Insist on forgiveness

Only through forgiveness can people move on. This must include the acknowledgement of broken trust, and agreement to learn from the experience. This doesn’t mean forgetting what caused the conflict. Indeed, to learn lessons and ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated, it is essential that we remember why those mistakes were made and the emotional effects they caused.

Step 7: Move forward

Don’t allow grudges to remain. Encourage people to remember, but also to move forward in a new environment of collaboration.

Summing up

Each member of your team brings something unique to the table. Whether that be their skills, experience, interests, or cultural values and beliefs, as a leader one of your biggest challenges may be to get your highly diverse workforce to gel.

Within your workforce, there will also be a range of emotional differences. There will be optimists, pessimists, introverts and extroverts. Some will be detail oriented, others will be big-picture people. This range of diversity can easily create internal conflict. However, it’s not the conflict that determines outcomes, but how you deal with it as a leader.

For more about workplace conflict, see also the following articles:

To embed communication techniques and conflict resolution in your leadership armoury, contact Forward Focus today, and discover how an Emotional Intelligence course will develop and embed the communication skills needed to shift your workforce from conflict to collaboration.

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