Preventing and Responding to Conflicts in the Workplace

To: Small Business Owners:

No matter how careful you are when hiring, workplace conflicts are likely to occur.  Such conflicts, if unresolved, can cause damage to any enterprise.

So, what is the small business owner to do?  Avoid conflict?  Smooth over disputes?  Or, prepare for conflict and know what to do when and if conflict happens.  Being prepared is both proactive and productive.

Here are 5 ways to prepare for, and even prevent damaging conflict from occurring.  In all these steps it is critical to be respectful, courteous, and above all, clear.

1.  Get crystal clear about the roles and responsibilities of your employees.  One part of that clarity is knowing the boundaries of the job descriptions you have created.  Another part is communicating those boundaries to your employees in talks, in the job description itself, and in the documentation you produce.

2.  Make sure you are clear about your expectations of your employees.  Communicate those expectations in person and in writing.

3.  Be very clear about the hierarchy you are creating.  Even if you own or manage a small business, it is important to recognize the formal and informal hierarchy.  Knowing who reports to whom, and why that reporting must exist is essential for good working relationships. And, acknowledging the informal communication mechanisms that develop among employees is also important.

4. Be prepared to respond immediately to misunderstandings. The earlier you intervene in budding conflicts, the more likely you are to achieve a positive outcome.  Don’t let conflicts stay in the dark.  “What stays in the dark grows in the dark” E. Larson.

5.  Think ahead about the potential consequences of unresolved conflict.  Establish an orderly process of discipline and corrective action.  Follow through and document all steps taken.  Having descriptive documentation in place can prevent unwarranted grievances and even legal action in the future.

According to The Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict (2001), “Chronic unresolved conflict acts as a decisive factor in at least 50% of departures and 90% of involuntary departures.”  So, follow the Boy Scout motto:  Be Prepared!

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