As they grow, local small businesses often promote longtime employees to supervisory or management positions without providing training in essential skills. Conflicts arise when an individual does not know how to be a boss – how to delegate work, how to guide subordinates to keep projects on schedule, how to deal with a team’s strengths and weaknesses, how to listen.
Workplace conflict, whatever the cause, leads to inefficient operations and widespread stress.
“The basis for conflict management is listening,” said Magdalena Jones, Ph.D. As a consultant with Leadership Empowerment Group of Mercedes, she guides businesses in resolving workplace conflict.
“We always start with the question, ‘Is conflict bad?’ We help people see conflict as an opportunity for growth, for improving things,” Jones said. “Conflict can have dysfunctional outcomes. It is up to the leader to understand conflict can go both ways and to build community.”
Jones said in her experience, a company doesn’t expect her to start with the biggest problem. “You the presenter have to build trust with all the employees. They want to know if I’m credible, if I can handle conflict.” Is the presenter going to impose a boilerplate solution or not?
“It goes back to listening to what they are saying,” Jones said. “As a presenter, you have to remember the stories they tell you in different sessions. The more they open up, the more we can redesign the training to meet the situation. Everyone has ideas. The ideas are theirs, but you (the presenter) keep them alive, validating them and bring them back to the conversation. Listening is a powerful tool to help resolve conflict and to work more efficiently.”
Without a guide, a group will rarely dig into tough issues, Jones observed. “But resolution does not come from us. We are the vehicle to help them look at the issues. Conflict brings them together to figure out a new approach to work more efficiently. Everybody is listening and there’s no finger pointing.”
Jones suggested a scenario where one team was not completing its work on time. Other teams discussed the issues they faced because of the delay. In another scenario, field crews did not check in on schedule, not realizing the problems that caused other departments. “Those people,” they noted, keep us from doing our jobs.
The discussions helped employees reflect on what they do, the conflict that arises and the outcomes they want. Usually employees haven’t thought they could solve the problem, but with guidance they have come up with simple goals and viable solutions, Jones said. “They had never had an opportunity to look at a problem, brainstorm, and make it better. They decided, ‘We are going to help each other.’ If a group doesn’t do their jobs correctly, the company loses customers.”
It becomes apparent to clients that every employee, from receptionists and clerks to line managers and field crews, needs listening skills, soft skills, to work together productively.
Jones mentioned that in the workplace, people react in certain ways depending on their culture. Whether that means never disagreeing or questioning the boss or focusing on face-saving, it impacts daily operations. Leadership Empowerment consultants don’t directly address cultural or generational differences, but they understand those issues can be the basis for conflict. The consultants also sidestep mediating personality conflicts, instead suggesting strategies to handle it.
Jones recalled the end of series of conflict management sessions when the teams stayed after to chat. “You could see they felt they had something going, that they were in a new place, a good place.”
Jones credited Leadership Empowerment Group founder Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa with raising awareness among Valley managers and owners about leadership roles and competitiveness. As new businesses open and existing businesses strive to survive, the importance of leadership – caring about workers and their personal and professional growth – takes on new importance.