FEATURE: How to manage staff squabbles

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Your staff are ultimately what will determine the success of your business and getting the knots out of a tense workforce is key to retaining and maintaining a strong team. We get some advice from HR professional, Matthew Davies, on ensuring its smooth sailing among your staff from the bottom all the way to the top…

It’s been said that conflict is inevitable but combat is optional. However we can easily mix these two elements together to create procrastination around dealing with the issue at hand.

Conflict means: a clash of two opposing views. Different opinions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

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It’s usually how you express your view that causes the problem to inflate with the hot air of combat.

Busy businesses like those in the UK jewellery industry can be like pressure cookers. If you’re not taking time out to effectively communicate with each other, problems will occur. For example, instead of a gentle reminder in a staff meeting about something, a patronising sign goes up, demanding staff must act a certain way. Resentments begin to foster simply because of this style of communication. The manager thinks he/she has done their job but staff are furious at the tone even if they agree with the content.
It reminds me of a famous George Bernard Shaw quote: “The biggest single problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Managers in small businesses are often rolling their sleeves up and mucking in on day to day duties rather than directing them. This means that the team can become untethered from systems and processes. Before long everyone has their own way of doing things, standards slip and with no-one really looking at the bigger picture, it can become blurred — a perfect breeding ground for conflict. I single out managers on purpose. They are the people who are directly responsible for teams. All research shows that great managers have an enormously positive impact on the business and bad managers are one of the top reasons why people leave a job.

I have seen managers in jewellery retail establishments do the job of a team member rather than show them how to do it. People need to learn and it’s ok to coach staff in a ‘live’ situation.

We don’t think twice when we go to the doctor and there’s a trainee in the room. It’s exactly the same here. If managers don’t coach and don’t delegate effectively they’ll get tired and conflict will arise. It’s understandable with the time pressures of a retail environment, but remember: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

To help managers solve staff squabbles, whether you are in a jewellery store or a suppliers workshop, I have put together my top tips.

TIP ONE: Pour water, not petrol over conflict
There are two things managers do badly when conflict arises.

Do nothing
This is the most common reaction. By doing so managers are simply allowing a small fire to become a potential inferno. Yes, sometimes time is a great healer and people do need space to cool off and reflect but don’t use this as an excuse to avoid a conflict. Inappropriate behaviour must be called out but done appropriately (no combat!). Ghandi said: ‘You can’t shake a hand with a clenched fist’, so don’t fall into the second mistake either.

Over react
It is no surprise that over half of all feedback in the workplace is not taken seriously. One of the reasons for this is because workers become defensive and don’t listen as a consequence of a managers combative tone. If managers are acting like power crazy dictators, it’s no surprise conflicts are increased and not calmed.

TIP TWO: Listen
To resolve conflict you have to truly understand it first. Do not assume you really know the reasoning of a dispute. You must listen. In the excellent book about effective negotiating called ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fisher there’s one line that I remind clients to consider: “When others feel heard by you, they’re more likely to listen to you.”
In a conflict the other party has an opposing view. Really listen to it, make sure they know you’re listening. Clarify and endeavour to deeply understand what’s going on. By doing so, listening will give you a gateway to be understood.

TIP THREE: Examples not opinions
If you’re going to resolve a conflict you must give examples of the behaviour you’re trying to change. Opinions don’t work because it is a personal view and not one based on objective evidence. If you can point to clear examples then you really have an opportunity to change a mindset.
Of course prevention is better than cure. Create a culture where any concerns can be highlighted and nipped in the bud quickly. Meet with your staff frequently. Junior staff will be watching how you behave and will mirror you. Have a code of conduct that you all agree on such as: Respect, courtesy, politeness and co-operation. If conflict arises, point to these values as the standard bearer.

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