Workplace Conflict: What’s Your Role?

December 5th, 2014

The project isn’t going well, and the client isn’t happy. You gather your team for yet another confused, unproductive status update, and during this tense meeting, you start to understand the nature of the problem: Two members of the team just aren’t getting along. There’s a rift between them that they seem unable to resolve, and the longer the issue festers, the more upset the client becomes.

As a manager or supervisor, what’s your role in this conflict? Should you wade into the mire and act as a referee, listening carefully to every past grievance and every accumulated insult in order to help the two resolve their differences? Or should you stay out of it and simply demand that they act like adults and put the work first?

Depending on the nature of the conflict, your path will probably fall somewhere between these two extremes. As you search for a balance between hands-off and hands-on, keep these considerations in mind.

First, give them credit for trying.

Most young employees genuinely want to excel at their jobs and win the praise of their supervisors. So if the conflict is so deep that it prevents both parties from meeting this goal, there’s a strong chance they’ve already tried to work it out on their own. Sometimes interpersonal conflict is petty and silly…but sometimes it isn’t. If they’ve made an honest attempt to rise above it and they just can’t, it’s time to respect their efforts, recognize their limitations, and give them a hand.

Listen.

Don’t lose yourself in this issue (you certainly don’t have time to act as a marriage counselor for hours on end.) But if possible, schedule a short meeting with both parties and let them clear the air. Listen to what they have to say. Keep a closed mouth and an open mind.

Lay down the law.

Be a wise, honest, and fair judge…but be a judge. If you simply dismiss them from your office insisting, once again, that they “work it out”, you’ll lose. The work won’t improve, you’ll lose their trust, and you may even lose one or both employees if they start searching elsewhere for another job. Your decision may not be perfect, but make a decision.

Enlist the help of HR and your legal team if necessary.

If the conflict involves workplace policy, pay scale issues, legal matters, or anything outside your area of expertise, don’t guess and muddle your way to an answer. Get qualified help.

Some interpersonal problems can be avoided if you hire the best possible teams in the first place. For more on how to build a functional workplace culture from the ground up, contact the staffing experts at PSU.

Become a Better Interviewer: Five Simple Moves

August 8th, 2014

There are two institutions in the modern professional workplace that employers cling to, generation after generation, despite their tendency to return limited value. The first is the annual employee review, and the second is the job interview. Again and again, these two conversations generate a froth of useless anxiety (on both sides of the table) and a mountain of meaningless data. But employers persevere…simply because better alternatives have yet to be discovered.

Interviews are flawed by nature; they’re difficult to script, difficult to compare, and difficult to control. An offhand remark that sounds like a red flag to one supervisor may seem innocuous (or even appealing) to another. And empty questions like “Are you a hard worker?” keep showing up in interviews, despite the lack of real information they provide.

But despite these obstacles, you still need to meet your candidates in person before you make an offer (this will always be true), and you still need to push data aside and rely on your intuition and human intelligence to extract value from this conversation. Here are a few ways to cut though the nonsense and actually find a candidate who will join your company, stay, contribute, and thrive.

1. Drop the act.

Your interviewees may be eager for your approval. But they aren’t fools. If you try to manipulate, intimidate, cross examine, insult, bait, or challenge them, they’ll see through you as well as anyone would. You’ll lose the most talented applicants who have somewhere else to go, and you’ll select for the ones with the highest levels of desperation. Just be yourself.

2. Research the job first.

If you’ll be this employee’s direct supervisor, you already know exactly what she’ll be doing all day long. But if not, learn what this job entails before you step into the room. Too often, hiring managers face candidates with completely mysterious skill sets (this often happens in IT), and their questions are drawn from a script they don’t really understand.

3. Look for cultural fitness, not just skill sets.

Ask open ended, “behavioral” questions. For example, “Describe a situation from your past in which you were asked to cut corners in order to meet a deadline. How did you resolve this conundrum?”

4. Read between the lines.

The candidate won’t just answer through her words alone. So pay attention to everything that falls outside the verbal realm. Which questions make him tense up? Which questions elicit her passion and interest? Is he a shy person (despite what he tells you about his lion-like boldness)? Is she a risk-taker, as she says (despite her conventional career path?) Is she likely to be loyal? Is he likely to be warm and kind?

For more on how to get the most out of your interview process and find the best matches in your candidate pool, reach out to the staffing experts at PSU.

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