Conflict in the workplace ebbs and flows. Sometimes things are great, everyone is happy and the work gets done without a hitch; conflict is at a minimum and conflicts that do arise are handled in a healthy, assertive way. Then other times there’s no stopping the vicious negativity, backstabbing, gossiping and resentment. In those times what can you do to keep yourself from getting hooked in to the drama?
1) Be proactive. In order to establish trust and teamwork people need to connect with each other in a fun, personal way. Each department and work group is different, so consider what kind of fun, teambuilding activities your department might enjoy. (Potlucks? Contests? Picnics? After work outings?) Also, don’t forget to pay attention to your role in building the team. Do you take a positive, proactive approach to build teamwork and collaboration, or do you need to check your attitude at the door?
2) Not all negativity is created equal. Investigate the root cause of tension and take steps to diffuse it. Some common reasons may be:
A) Personality clashes and conflict avoidance. Sometimes you may just have to agree to disagree; other times you may have to muster the courage to have some difficult conversations. In either case, conduct yourself openly, honestly, and assertively, and expect others to do the same when communicating with you. By being a role model for assertiveness you can teach others how to engage in healthy conflict. If assertiveness is a struggle for you, ask your supervisor or a co-worker you trust to coach you.
B) Work processes are not working and people are getting frustrated. This often looks like negativity and poor attitudes, but really it comes down to having a solution-focused conversation about work process—what’s going well? What needs to change? What is each person’s role? What are some easy fixes? What are the long-term solutions? It’s easy to point out what’s not working, but after the issues have been identified be sure to focus on positive action that will create some lasting change.
C) Grief about losing the past and resistance to change. Some people adapt very quickly to change while others get stuck on the ‘old way.’ For those who struggle you may see complaining, anger and passive aggression. Instead of getting hooked into this negative spiral, acknowledge their feelings about the past (maybe they miss a previous supervisor or an old work process, etc.) and validate their very real feelings of loss. Once you acknowledge how difficult this is for them, in a compassionate way challenge them to look ahead—what opportunities do they see? How can they contribute to a great team today? What are they willing to do to make it better?
3) Appreciate your team members. It’s difficult to be snappy and mean to someone who is kind and considerate. Send thank you notes and memos of appreciation. Acknowledge achievements of individuals and the team. Bring cupcakes just because. Let people know that you value and appreciate them. Often.
If you take a pro-active stance in encouraging teamwork and flush out underlying root causes of negativity, there’s no reason why interpersonal conflicts can’t be channeled into growth and opportunity.