Stop the Fighting! Conflict Management in the Office

Like any other employees, executives have their share of workplace challenges. However, it may come as a surprise that the big worries keeping them up at night don’t have to do with the economy or shareholders, but rather something much closer to home.

A recent survey from Robert Half Finance & Accounting found that among the CFOs interviewed, the top sources of anxiety are interpersonal conflicts and their own performance. Not far behind was fretting about finding and hiring the right people.

Conflict management is a major issue that doesn’t get enough attention in the business world. When staff members don’t get along, teamwork and morale suffer — leading to mistakes and a loss of productivity. Even worse is when management can’t work well with employees. A recent Robert Half study on building a happier workplace found that the number one reason people quit their job is conflict with the boss.

Very few businesses can afford in-fighting or to lose their star employees. Here are some tips Robert Half shared (via e-mail) for keeping the peace or re-establishing harmony throughout your organization.

1. Recruit the Right People

If you focus on just technical abilities when hiring finance professionals, you may be doing yourself and your team a disservice. It’s important to have staff members who are geniuses with financial software and spreadsheets, but don’t overlook the many soft skills that act as a lubricant for social relations. I’m talking about abilities and traits such as flexibility, empathy, collaboration, communication, and a sense of humor. You may have the most technically brilliant analysts and directors on the payroll, but your company’s productivity and morale will suffer if those employees are impossible to work with. You need the best of both worlds: people who are both technically proficient and mentally strong.

2. Keep the Door Open

While you don’t need to be (and shouldn’t be!) available 24/7/365, neither should your staff find it difficult to approach you with interpersonal or professional challenges. You can’t help solve an issue you don’t know about. So remind employees early and often about your open-door policy. And aim to create a no-blame environment so they won’t be afraid to talk to you about problems, including disagreements with you.

3. Have Frequent Check-ins

An open-door policy is indispensable, but it does put the onus on staff to take the first step in conflict resolution. A work-around is to set up regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. This could be a half hour every other week for you to give encouragement, deliver constructive criticism, and deepen your relationship with them. Let employees know you care about their concerns and that the company embraces a “people first” work culture. Be sure to have a dialogue — not just a monologue — by asking for feedback on how you could better help them do their job.

4. Strengthen Team Dynamics

Some business managers discourage socializing among workers out of a fear that too much chitchat will bring down productivity. In reality, the more workplace friendships employees have, the better they communicate and cooperate with each other — and the less you’ll have to step in to counter any in-fighting. You can take steps to nip workplace conflict in the bud by creating opportunities for staff to bond. Some ideas include happy hours, company-wide volunteer efforts, off-site retreats, and team-building activities. Happy workers are good for your business. And of course, you — as the leader — should be a full participant and not just the planner or a spectator.

5. Offer Regular Appreciation

If you’re worried about any of your own behaviors being unappealing to your staff, there’s one you can fairly easily do something about: a lack of praise. You like to be thanked for a job well done, and so do your employees. When you give your team the recognition they deserve, they feel you’re treating them with respect and fairness — two essential aspects of a healthy employer-worker relationship.

There are many different ways to show appreciation, and not all of them cost a lot of money. Some ideas:

  • Handwritten cards detailing why you’re happy they’re part of your team.
  • Small certificates of recognition, signed by the CEO, that staff can hang on their cubicle walls.
  • Extra vacation day or afternoon off after year-end closing.
  • A token of appreciation sent to their home, such as a gift card or gourmet chocolates.

For best results, make it specific, such as “I appreciate you because you consistently delight clients with your knowledge and work ethic.” And be careful not to overdo your praise. Applauding every little thing will dilute its effect, and your efforts may even be interpreted as insincere.

As the head of your organization, you’re responsible for ensuring your team plays well together. When you lead with caring and integrity, many of your workplace challenges should fall away, which means fewer sleepless nights.


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