Leadership in Tough Times Can Save More Than Just Morale

When times are tough, job stress typically increases, from the top echelon of management to the workers on the front lines. Communication can suffer, too, as leaders hold back less-than-positive information to avoid adding to workers\’ worries. As a result, a culture of fear and lack of trust can pervade any business, with employees looking to the future with uncertainty and looking to leadership for answers they may not get.

Fear and lack of trust are the building blocks of conflict. While it\’s a normal aspect of business, human resources and management don\’t always handle conflict as well as they could. For example, in many firms, the first response is to bring in outside experts, to conduct mediation sessions or workshops, in an attempt to diffuse tension and improve morale. These costly consultants are usually unknown – and therefore not always trusted by the parties involved. And they often leave the company in the same situation in which they found it.

A better way to deal with conflict is to prevent it in the first place. When leaders build a culture of trust and work to improve their own conflict resolution styles, workplace wars can be a thing of the past. In this way, effective leadership can save company morale – and save money, too.

Can a Culture of Trust Lead to a Conflict-Free Workplace?

Eliminating workplace conflict may seem like an impossible task – and in some firms, it will likely never go away completely. But decreasing conflict, and diminishing its impact, is doable. A company culture built on trust can significantly improve employee morale, increase productivity and add to the bottom line. Here are three ways to move toward a conflict-free workplace through trust:

  • Encourage tolerance and respect for everyone. No matter what their age, gender, physical characteristics, or socio-economic or cultural background, all employees deserve to be respected as unique individuals, not mistreated because of their differences. Comments, jokes, gossip or any non-productive talk about co-workers cannot be tolerated in any forward-thinking company. Conduct cultural awareness training to foster inclusion and create a foundation of respect and trust for all.
  • Keep communication flowing. Over-communicating can be a plus in a fast-moving work environment. Set goals, outline expectations, clarify roles and explain procedures – and repeat often. Encourage feedback and questions – no matter how trivial – to help build clarity. And avoid hiding information or keeping bad news from staff to build trust and reduce stress.
  • Teach people how to listen and empathize. Anyone can learn how to be an active listener – especially when their leaders model the behavior. Here\’s how: in conversation, make every effort to be fully present; don\’t interrupt; and repeat back what you think the person said. Nothing does more to make a person feel valued than to know they\’ve been heard.
  • Promote passion. Let your staff know it\’s okay to take a stand on something they feel passionate about. It\’s also fine to disagree with someone\’s position. A positive way to handle disagreement is simply to acknowledge feelings and empathize with the person. Working through small difficulties can lead to increased confidence, respect and trust all around.

It\’s true that even a strong culture of trust won\’t prevent every workplace conflict. But that doesn\’t mean it\’s time to call in the mediation experts. When handled properly by skilled leaders, conflict can be harmless, and even lead to positive change.

Revamp Your Conflict Resolution Style

When people of various cultural and social backgrounds, or with different needs and goals, are put together in a confined space, anything can happen. But conflict is not always a bad thing. Becoming a great leader requires learning how to effectively resolve workplace conflicts to affect a positive outcome.

Here are some ways to boost your conflict resolution skills:

  • Let the facts be your guide. Eliminating speculation, assumptions and conjecture can go a long way toward avoiding conflict. Show employees how to take an analytical approach to their interactions. Ask clarifying questions and get to the bottom of a situation, to learn what people really think and understand about it. Focus on the problem at hand, not the people involved. And stay objective!
  • Always be courteous. Leaders must conduct themselves with high standards of behavior. When managing a conflict or stressful situation, treat everyone involved with courtesy – even if you disagree with him or her. Not only does it foster feelings of value, but courtesy also develops respect. And you cannot lead if your staff has no respect for you.
  • Crowdsource a solution. Ask for input from the parties involved, and be open to their ideas for solutions.
  • Learn to negotiate. When a conflict has reached an impasse, it\’s time for a strong leader to negotiate a solution. If your negotiation skills are rusty, find the training you need to develop them. Negotiation goes hand-in-hand with leadership success.

Solid Leadership is All You Need to Control Workplace Conflict

In today\’s economically challenged business environment, a company can deal with conflict by bringing in outsiders, or by making internal improvements that foster proactive conflict resolution. When workers learn to deal with conflict by observing their leaders and practicing their own conflict resolution skills, trust and mutual respect only increase. And as a result, morale and productivity rise along with them.

This guest post was provided by Jason Monaghan with University of Notre Dame Executive Online Education. Jason works with the faculty and staff at Notre Dame Online to develop skill sets for the leaders of tomorrow in Negotiations, Leadership and Management and Business Administration.