Are Your Employees Fine? How To Properly Manage Conflict In The Workplace

Are Your Employees Fine

“I’m fine.” You may be fine but how you're delivering that answer might give away more information than you think.

Have you asked an employee how they are and you receive a blunt response? Have they responded, "Fine" (in a deeper tone with slight, downward intonation)? 

Engaging your emotional intelligence, you know they aren't fine at all.

In the workplace this response can be:

F - Fixed in one's negative assumptions about a colleague;

I - Irritated by others behaviours or actions;

N - Not prepared to reflect on one's own behaviour or action; and  

E - Entrenched in one’s thoughts and so not open to having fixed assumptions explored or challenged.

It can seem like the staff member wants you to know they are not fine but they don't want you to do anything about it. If you did intervene, would they have to take part in some type of process to have the situation addressed? Maybe the employee wants to stay 'below the line' in terms of how they are feeling and the views they are choosing to hold onto. 

Often, employees try to cling to the narrative they’ve created in their own minds. This type of 'protected certainty' can provide some level of comfort. Unfortunately this shows an unwillingness to address issues and resolve conflict — both at an interpersonal and intrapersonal level. 

Ensuring negative behaviour doesn’t affect the team

The tension of conflict and the wrongdoings of another can deeply upset and negatively affect an employee. But if they can’t let go of past incidents, it will only get worse. They’ll end up unhappy, and less engaged and productive. 

We all know the mood of an employee can affect the whole team. Teams should be uplifted by positive workplace culture. This can only be achieved if every team member is 'above the line' the majority of the time. Teams don’t want to feel weighed down by the negative vibes of a colleague. If team members have to walk on eggshells, tension will build.

How much better would the workplace be if, when you asked an employee how they are, their response was positive? For an employee to be  genuinely ‘fine’, there needs to be:

F - Fellowship in the workplace;

I - Importance placed on the consistent display of professional behaviours by everyone;

N - No negative, unchallenged narrative being unconsciously expressed; and

E - Evidence of employees being satisfied and fully engaged with their work, their colleagues and their team culture.

Managing the issue in real-time

If you have one or more employees in a team who are avoiding conflict and saying they are ‘fine’, it should not be ignored. Ignoring it because no one has complained, or hoping that the situation will resolve itself (because they are grown adults after all), is just another form of avoidance. 

A manager who doesn’t promptly address and resolve issues within their team should be asked to explain the deterioration of culture and performance in the team. Or explain the reason for a more complex formal complaint in the future. Because that will happen. 

I would ask why the manager didn't demonstrate the kind of leadership every employee and the business deserves at the time?

Supporting your managers to support the team

It’s imperative businesses support the development of managers via leadership training workshops and executive coaching opportunities.

Supporting and addressing matters of concern in a team can be as simple as contacting Workplace Harmony Solutions to carry out mediation between two members of staff or the whole team.

Ask any HR department, any manager and any team the kind of culture they’d prefer and I’m sure they’d say a culture where the second type of ‘fine’ is the norm, not the exception. 

Engaging Workplace Harmony Solutions to provide a mediator, who is highly qualified, experienced and both internationally and nationally accredited means:

  •  Positive outcomes are achieved for the mediation participants as well as the team and ultimately the business;
  • The mediation participants learn new (or re-hone) communication and ‘early self management of concern’ skills;
  • There is no bias and less risk with engaging an independent specialist for mediation compared to the manager or other untrained staff member. Have you thought about the risks associated with a less than adequate outcome? It's not always likely that employees who have experienced a poor mediation process will want to re-engage in a mediation process again; and
  • The team manager and HR will be viewed as being supportive of  employees’ wellbeing and proactive in taking steps to do what is just (no matter what their own personal tolerance of conflict is).
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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.