Workplace conflict is inevitable. Being a manager for several years now, I learned that the last thing you’d want is having a conflict between the employees. This results in an unproductive and stressful environment. However, taking numerous preventative measures for identifying and avoiding it is what matters most.
How can you avoid conflicts when working with a diverse team? Creating a work environment where open communication and respect are fundamental principles is one of the best ways for avoiding conflicts not just in a diverse team, but in the whole workplace. Every member of the team needs to know exactly what to expect and have a clear idea of his or her role, roles of other team members, and company’s goals.
Managers should be aware of all potential conflicts and keep them at a minimum. Because there will be a lot of missed deadlines and unproductive workers. Misunderstandings over who did what, poor communication, tangled coworker relationships, clash of opinions, etc, are one of the most common conflicts.
Managers are not the only ones that can prevent conflicts from happening. Employees should also be aware when some issue might escalate. All team members can learn the best practices on how to behave to achieve that.
Here are some tips on how to avoid conflicts when working with a diverse team:
1. Transparency and open communication
Open communication is the key to avoiding conflicts between team members. If the communication is clear and concise, there will be no place for misunderstandings.
Make sure to give feedback to your employees. This way they will feel valued and will try to do their best. Providing constant feedback will teach everyone to share their thoughts and give feedback.
Encourage managers and employees to deliver their presentations and speeches in a designated place or meeting rooms, to avoid people not hearing well, thus not understanding what the meeting is for.
Transparency goes hand in hand with open communication. It should be maintained at all times. To achieve this make sure to create a culture where:
– Avoid ideas’ imposing, without considering the point of view of others;
– Supporting team members not because they are friends, but because they are right and correct them when they are wrong;
– Everyone should express their opinions in a convincing way
– Managers should assign tasks according to the strengths and skills of their team members.
2. Be informed of all tasks, problems, projects, and emotions
In order to avoid conflicts or other unwanted situations like losing an employee or a client, managers should keep tabs on everything that is happening with the team, either through task tracking platforms, one-on-one meetings, and etc.
3. Learn how to listen
Sometimes listening to the members of your team is enough. By giving them a chance to talk without debating and resisting, you will lower the barriers and make them feel heard.
Create a culture where employees listen to other employees. Because very often, we are hearing our colleagues, but we are not actually listening to what they’re saying. Many times people’s minds wander when there are group meetings and don’t absorb everything that is said.
This might be a reason later on for the appearance of conflicts.
4. Set clear expectations and goals
Many times conflicts occur due to the fact that employees don’t know exactly what is expected of them. If they have a better understanding of the companies’ goals, and what their managers or teammates expect, all conflicts based on confusion will be avoided.
Start by setting expectations from day one of employment. Especially in a diverse team, anything that you or your teammates may need from each other should be clearly expressed and defined. As a result, the team will have better communication.
Have an open discussion about expectations: Discussion helps in clarifying objectives upfront. Inhomogeneous teams are much easier to reach a decision, whereas for diverse teams there is a need for much more deliberation in terms of what criteria to be used, who will make the decision, etc.
Encourage each team member to share their perspective. Having diverse insights will help the team to find the most effective way of accomplishing the goals.
Check if everybody understands the expectations: In diverse teams, there are many situations where people only nod that they understand the stated goals and expectations because they fear of being humiliated if they say that they didn’t understand.
As a manager you have to ask each member how they understand the expectations, not to put them on the spot but to observe their perspectives. One-on-one meetings are especially helpful when it comes to not only clarify expectations, but to listen, understand, and mentor each of the team members.
By knowing if some of the team members have struggled because of personal issues or conflicts with another coworker, you will be able to handle that situation before is out of hands.
There are several expectations that very often aren’t clear among the team members such as:
Who is in charge? Everyone should be aware of who is calling the shots and having the ultimate responsibility. To be a leader you don’t have to be the person who is the longest in the company or by receiving some title, instead, you have to be the one who delivered great results and taken responsibility for your actions.
Just look at Facebook, a millennial run company, they are against a hierarchical structure. To become a manager you have to be oriented toward accomplishing the goals of the company, not to the power the title brings.
Unfortunately, most corporate companies have practices where the senior leader has to stay at the head of the table and have the final word. This egotistical behavior leads to many conflicts since employees feel undervalued and not respected well-enough.
Purpose of meetings: Before any meeting, the participants need to be informed of the purpose of the meeting. Whenever a meeting is set, there is a whole set of expectations following it. Whether it’s for sharing updates, information, opinions, then exploring alternatives and making decisions, developing trust, etc.
As a result of being properly informed, participants will have the time to prepare themselves so they can analyze the alternatives accurately.
5. Building the right team
It all starts with hiring the right people and building trust between your team. This way you’ll avoid conflicts, even before they occur. However, bear in mind that completely different work styles and opposing conflicts might create even bigger problems.
You’d want to hire people who along their specialized skills can express themselves easily, especially when your team is working remotely on different locations, who are open to compromises, understanding of different personalities and emotions, etc.
These soft skills are very welcomed when there are increased levels of stress due to deadlines or personal issues.
6. Celebrate differences in your team
Strong and effective teams consist of diverse individuals who have specific roles but share the same goal. Diversity encourages collaboration and coming up with better ideas. Diverse perspectives are offering more opportunities for solving problems.
When employees see how different they are, and how each member contributes to the group’s success, they can easily channel the competition into mutual gain. The success of the individuals becomes the success of the group.
7. Respect for each team member
All behaviors that encourage criticizing or making fun of other colleagues are absolutely unacceptable. Backstabbing, gossip, and bullying must be avoided since they are considered as utterly unprofessional and a base for conflicts among employees.
Every member should take ownership of their own responsibilities and not blame others. Blame game only creates more conflicts and doesn’t provide solutions.
Encourage team members to take the initiative to discuss things with their colleagues whenever some misunderstanding occurs.
8. Lighten up the mood in the workplace
Allow your employees to have a little fun while at work. Start your meetings with a non-offensive joke, fun exercise, etc. Encourage this kind of behavior.
While doing our job is our responsibility, it also needs to be a place where we feel comfortable given that most of us spend most of our day at our desks. Too serious work environments may affect employee productivity and energy and not in a good way.
9. Train your employees how to handle tense situations and introduce code of ethics
Despite the efforts for avoiding conflict in diverse teams, it will inevitably happen at some point. The more diverse the team, the bigger the chance for conflicts given the higher number of different perspectives, interests, and needs.
To lower the chance of occurring conflicts, train your employees on how to handle tense and stressful situations. Introduce a code of ethics on what is acceptable behavior, what is unacceptable behavior (sexual harassment), dress code, then the importance of actively listening to the other side, choosing the right words, and using a respectful tone.
You can even organize an event for conflict resolution where conflict experts will speak to your employees and teach them how to best react to conflicts not just at work but in everyday life too.
Moreover, managers and employees need to be properly trained on how to manage potential conflicts as a result of delegating tasks and assignments. It’s also very important to teach them to have an equitable treatment of all team members and avoid bias. When employees feel they’re receiving unfair treatment, they become discouraged and prone to conflicts.
10. Identifying conflict
At all times you need to be aware of some conflict is brewing, whether is a task related issue, invading someone’s personal space, different opinions or personality crashing between 2 co-workers.
Try to make your own observations. You may even find that some members of your team are causing trouble just for their personal amusement and are the source of negative vibes in the team.
Knowing where potential conflict might occur will give you an idea of how to handle it without disrupting the efficiency and morale of your team.
11. Address the conflict as soon as possible
When a conflict arises between the members of your team, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible and transparently. This way you will prevent building tension over time.
By asking each of the sides what happened, you will get an idea of why everybody acted the way they acted and if there is space for resolving the conflict. Try to encourage open dialogue and communication.
Keep in mind that as a supervisor or manager you are a role model. If you expect your team members to behave a certain way, you need to set an example of you dealing with your conflicts.
Employees Should Feel Comfortable Reporting Conflicts to HR
Every company needs to have a human resources department to handle all kinds of employee’s matters, including conflicts. Upper management together with HR should set steps required for handling employee’s concerns and issues.
Usually, whenever an employee is facing some problems with a co-worker or with a member of the leadership team, they should contact the manager or supervisor. If that is not possible, the next step is to report their problem to the designated HR staff.
One of the most important responsibilities of HR is to prevent employee conflict or to resolve it as soon as it occurs. HR should be able to design multiple practices where employees can notify them of potential situations that can result in conflicts. Whether is an employee hotline for anonymous notifications or survey.
However, there are a lot of times when employees don’t feel comfortable to report their problems either to HR or the manager. If the company is not interested in maintaining a positive work environment and addressing the employee’s concerns, the tension can only grow and the employee will eventually leave the company.
On the other side, regardless of the steps and practices for preventing conflicts, there can be an employee who simply refuses to change her or his behavior. You need to inform them of the consequences if they are still behaving the same way.
Avoiding Conflict in Remote Teams
Managing a remote team has its own advantages, as well as challenges and conflicts bot online and offline. Remote teams are usually composed of people with diverse backgrounds, cultural differences, which oftentimes lead to increased innovation and growth. However, managers need to be aware of all potential conflicts in the remote teams and what to take as a precaution.
As with other diverse teams, the major problem for remote teams is not being clear on the roles of each of the members. Members may compete for control and thus cause conflicts. In this case, managers need to make sure that everyone knows their responsibilities and understands team goals.
This way, all of the members will be working toward the same goal, increasing teamwork and making them more aligned.
Lack of personal connection
Meeting through a virtual environment may result in members feeling that they aren’t part of the team. To avoid this, organize more relaxed meet-ups, where every member is encouraged to do small-talk such as talk about their vacation plans, weekend plans, etc. This way, they will start feeling more close and connected not only professionally but personally as well.
You can even encourage daily informal communication through some messaging platform, where members can post funny videos, photos, tell funny stories, and much more.
When there are friendships among team members, the ods for having conflicts are much lower.
Members of international remote teams come from countries with different languages. Even though they all communicate in one common language – English, there might be some misunderstandings that will create unintentional conflicts.
While some members don’t feel confident with their language skills to participate in the meetings, others will dominate. This may result in a divided team.
Managers should be aware of everybody’s skills and act accordingly. Encourage those who are not that confident to participate in the conversation and not isolate them. Whereas for those much more comfortable, encourage to speak slowly so everyone understands them.
Even though remote teams can be located in different parts of the world, the role of the managers is to make them feel like they are in the same room. This means having regular meetings, both one-on-one and group meetings, ensuring that everyone understands their tasks and is happy with them, and focusing on increasing the team spirit.
How to resolve a conflict?
For a conflict to be resolved, it requires respect and patience.
First, the conflict needs to be acknowledged so it can be properly managed. Everyone should agree to participate in the resolving process and discuss its impact on team performance and efficiency. Open and transparent communication should be maintained at all times.
Second, the conflict can be resolved only if everyone explain their position and point of view. As a manager, you need to make sure that each side tells their facts, beliefs, and assumptions, so everyone can feel heard and understood.
Third, when all parties understand each other’s positions, it’s much easier to decide what course of action needs to be taken to reach an agreement.
What are the benefits of working with a diverse team?
1. Increased creativity, innovation, and productivity and fresh ideas;
2. Different perspectives and fresh ideas;
3. Better decision making and problem-solving;
4. Higher efficiency and performance due to increased employee engagement;
5. Better reputation and higher profits.