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    Expert Column: Mediating Conflict Among Individuals on Your Team

    Establishing ground rules for cooperative, professional communication

    By Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking Inc.

    If there is a high level of interpersonal conflict on your team, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, “Why do my direct-reports have enough time on their hands at work--not to mention brain space--to focus on interpersonal conflicts with each other?”

    If you are the leader, you need to fill the leadership vacuum. That does not mean putting your foot down. It means getting everybody more focused on doing all that work they have in common, so they won’t have as much energy to focus on conflicts. You don’t need a big moment. You need a good process to suck the oxygen right out of most conflicts.

    When you are coaching employees every day, spelling out expectations, and tracking performance every step of the way, employees are less likely to worry about each other and more likely to worry about getting their own work done.

    If you still find lingering conflicts on your team, chances are you are fighting a conflict that has had too much time and space to fester and grow. Perhaps it’s an unresolved personality clash that has left ill-will. Or maybe cliques have formed, ringleaders have emerged, or even bullies.

    When there is ill-will between specific colleagues, you need to confront the situation directly: You are going to have to hear out both parties and then make a judgment call. Either you make a decision that everybody needs to live with, or else the issue remains in status quo and that, too, is a decision. In any case, everybody needs to live with the decision and agree to move on.

    Going forward: Will you make an effort to keep them apart in the future, working on different projects, in different areas, or on different shifts? Or will they need to be able to work together? If it’s the latter, then they need to establish a regular ongoing one-on-one dialogue with each other and agree on ground rules for how they are going to work together in a cooperative and professional manner.

    If certain employees are especially prone to conflicts--in repeated instances--you need to aggressively coach the conflict-prone employee on avoiding conflict and interacting in more positive ways. Tell them what to say and how to say it so that they can engage in conflict-free interactions. Spell it out. Break it down. Follow up.

    When it comes to cliques, remember, you rarely find cliques without ringleaders. Often cliques form around competing ringleaders. Sometimes ringleaders emerge from within a clique. But they almost always go together.

    You have two choices when it comes to cliques/ringleaders: Either co-opt the parallel power structure or else break it up.

    When it comes to bullying in the workplace, if anybody is abusive to anyone else in any way--menacing, threatening, or even suggesting violent words or actions--you have a responsibility to keep everybody safe by removing the abuser from the workplace immediately--period.

     

    By Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking Inc.
    • About Bruce Tulgan Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is also the best-selling author of numerous books, including “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (2009) and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (2007). He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @brucetulgan.

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