Three tips for managing employee conflict

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

When collaborating on a project, it's not unusual for team members to disagree, especially on technical projects. A wide range of experience and opinions is an advantage on most projects, except when different opinions lead to personal conflict. Many managers spend valuable time making sure that their teams view them as fair, distributing praise and criticism equally so as not to be viewed as having "favorites." This strategy can lead to destructive rivalries, where employees go out of their way to seek praise, even undermining their colleagues. Below are some practical tips on how to shut down team rivalries and conflicts before they disrupt your project:

  • Treat employees impartially: Treat all your employees with the same respect and courtesy, and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. If one employee requires an extension for an assignment, be prepared to do the same for another employee, but do not do so automatically. Consider each request individually, and do not base one decision on the other.
  • Be willing to mix things up: Employee conflict is often very similar to sibling rivalry. Sometimes, employees only need some time apart to settle their differences. Mixing up a project team or changing desks is usually enough for employees to forget petty differences. But if employees actually really personally dislike each another, you'll probably need to make more permanent transfers to avoid declines in morale and productivity.
  • Stay self-aware: Project managers need to be aware of how their actions are perceived by their employees. It is natural to have preferences regarding work habits and personalities, but showing favoritism can negatively affect other employees. Make sure your praise is for the quality of the work, not your personal preferences.

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