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How to Deal With Employee Conflict in a Healthy Way

Office conflict is usually seen negatively. However, business leaders also need to consider that an absence of conflicting viewpoints could be a serious red flag.

If meetings are starting to feel a little bit like echo chambers, it could mean that your employees are just similar in their mindset or their experiences — or that they’re afraid to speak up. Without a variety of perspectives or opinions to consider, your business could stagnate. It also means that the best ideas may never come up, or that the ones that do won’t be well-vetted.

At The Receptionist, we think that healthy conflict, when handled correctly, is important.

However, if a conflict gets too intense, too personal, or is not productive towards positive change, it can damage employee relationships, hurt employee productivity, and send employee retention efforts plummeting.

Here’s how we strive to resolve employee conflict in a healthy way at The Receptionist.

First Step: Embrace Value-Driven Hiring

Hiring may not be the first step that comes to mind when it comes to handling employee conflict. But you’d probably agree that conflicts are generally much healthier when your team shares the same core values — which is something that can only happen with careful hiring.

That doesn’t mean that employees should tackle all challenges the exact same way. As we mentioned before, that would deprive your business of valuable ideas and a diverse approach to problem-solving.

However, your hiring managers can treat so-called “soft-skills,” such as empathy and attentive listening, with as much importance as they do the more technical aspects of a candidate’s experience.

At The Receptionist, we place a high value on a candidate’s ability to work well with others. In fact, during the hiring process, we have each team member rate each job candidate on a scale of one to five on the factors of experience, teamwork, competency, and culture fit.

As we dive into in our post about hiring for cultural fit, each applicant spends an entire day in the office and meets the rest of the people they will be working with. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee a total absence of conflict. But the opportunity to meet face-to-face does give us a better sense of people’s communication and other “soft” skills before they officially join the team.

Always Assume Positive Intent

Especially with a remote or partially remote team, a lot of communication happens in writing without the benefit of nonverbal communication cues.

That’s why we encourage our employees to always assume that their colleagues have the best intentions in their communications and decisions, written and otherwise.

A lot of conflict is ultimately due to misunderstanding and miscommunication, or people taking things personally that weren’t meant to be personal.

employee conflict

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg has mentioned assuming positive intent in his discussions surrounding the essential components of a distributed workforce.

Here’s how he sums it up for the team of the language learning app Memrise: “There’s usually two ways you can read almost anything. One which is mean-spirited, or makes you feel bad or seems petty or passive-agressive or something like that, and another, which assumes that the person meant the message positively, […] which is, by the way, true 99.9% of the time.”

He suggests that, in addition to always assuming positive intent, that employees take an extra moment to consider how an overly brief message might be misinterpreted and add a little warmth or even an emoji to the message. If you’ve hired a team that shares and understands the same foundational values, colleagues will also interact with each other using those values.

Align Goals and Metrics for Everyone

When teams are working under mismatched values or can’t communicate well across departments, resentment and frustration will breed easily.

We think it helps a lot when teams can work together in-person occasionally. However, even plenty of face-to-face time might not fix problems caused by working in opposite directions. Each segment of your team must also be working toward the same big goals, and their short-term goals have to be compatible.

At The Receptionist, we like to make goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. We also start with the big-picture and company-wide goals (10-year goals) and break them down into smaller, more concrete steps that help keep momentum rolling toward that big end goal.

Everyone on our team takes part in our big-picture goals and quarterly themes. Those goals usually revolve around hitting revenue targets and moving the company as a whole in a strategic direction.

We also have 90-day goals that are more specific to individual teams or projects. Although those goals are team-specific, that certainly doesn’t mean they need to stay private. Each department can ask if their own goals line up with those of the other departments, and with overall long-term goals.

As we wrote in our post on encouraging better relationships between the sales and engineering departments, we also use software to quantify the feedback, feelings, and thoughts about potential changes to our product so that everyone stays on the same page and there’s less potential conflict.

Clarity and sense of shared mission go a long way toward keeping workplace conflicts civil. Share on X

Focus on what’s best for the customer

At The Receptionist, we are proud to be customer-focused where other companies are revenue-focused.

That means that every decision we make comes back to what’s best for the customer. Because of this we believe that conflicts and arguments are less personal.

After all, employees shouldn’t be advocating for their own interests when it comes to any decisions, but for the customers’ interests.

Developing a customer-focused culture requires time and deliberate action. At The Receptionist, we have carefully chosen our core values to reflect what’s important to us, and we use them as a lens for every decision. Our values are Fun, Authentic, Bold, Respectful, Innovative, and Collaborative, and we sum them up with the term FABRIC.

To learn more about how we came up with these values, head over to our podcast episode A Deeper Look at Our FABRIC. To learn more about The Receptionist’s workplace culture, check out The FABRIC Show.

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