Training staff to solve their own conflicts

In an article on SHRM in 2005, the author Kelly Mollica stated: “If your staff often come to you to complain about the others and if you think it is your business to solve their conflicts, it is high time you said ‘No’. Instead, you need to train your staffs to solve their problems themselves.”

According to the author, the manager will sooner or later be on a certain side by taking the responsibility of solving problems at work. It will lead to the unintentional partiality which will damage the manager’s reputation and power. Therefore, it is significant that he must know how to refuse and train his subordinates to know how to solve the problem and get rid of the habit of reporting all work conflicts.

Of course, it takes a long time to make staff deal with their own problems at the starting stage, but patience is necessary. In the long run, the manager should target building an environment where all staffs know how to behave properly and manage their conflicts. The article above discussed eight steps the manager can do to train his staffs to control the situation and handle conflicts, specifically:

1. Do not consider staff issues an “emergency” in the list of priorities. Some managers spend a lot of time dealing with things that their staff consider urgent, but in fact they are not important because they are not related to the company’s tasks and goals.

2. Train staff on how to deal with conflicts. This training starts with self evaluation, issue consideration, self control, then the staff will realize different kinds of conflicts and learn how to handle each kind as well as understand the strengths and weaknesses of each kind.

3. Communicate ways to handle conflicts and require the staff to apply properly. All staff must know the principles to solve problems and courses of actions in case of internal conflicts. If problems arise, the manager will not interfere but ask the staffs to apply what they have learnt and wait for the reports on problem solving.

4. Interfere only when power is needed to make a decision. If an employee does something wrong to the whole team, the team members will solve the problem without the intervention of the manager. Only when the manager’s decision is called for (e.g. the team agrees to get rid of a member) then the manager will consider the report, then interferes to have more details and give the final reasonable decision.

5. Develop a culture in which respect is given to problem management. This must be seen as a core ability of all staffs. The manager must recognize and assess the staffs’ successful conflict handling in time.

6. Ask the staffs to pay attention to behaviors not personalities. This prevents the staffs from reaching wrong conclusions on personalities or having objective assumptions on their colleagues.

7. Implement the policy that encourages staffs to work together and support each other at work. Publicizing policies motivating staffs to fasten the relationship with colleagues, help each other to overcome problems and solve things that can become conflicts. The manager must always keep an eye on and recognize the individuals who are willing to help the others in need.

8. When conflicts cross the border of a section or a team. If conflicts happen between two sections in a business, the manager of each section should ask his staffs to find a way out. After that, the two managers check the suggestions of each section to come to a consensus that is most beneficial to the business.

Applying these eight steps doesn’t mean that conflicts will not happen at work, but surely the conflicts, if occur, will be solved smoothly, saving a lasting chaos. The other visible benefit is that the manager will not have to spend time and effort for trivial stuffs, which gives him more time and energy for more critical tasks.

Trương Chí Dũng, R&D Director, Le&Associates –


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