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"Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important." ? Stephen R. Covey

As a manager of a team, you can often feel like a parent. Have you ever caught yourself talking to your employees the way you talk to your children? We've all been there. When conflict arises, though, you don't want to put on your Mom or Dad hat - you have to wear your Manager hat and help your team to help themselves.

Admitting You're Parenting Is The First Step

Leaders take on a parenting role when they let their team members come to them with every little problem. If your employees know they can knock on the door and say, "Hey, boss, what should I do about XYZ," get an answer and then get right back to work, they will stop thinking for themselves. If this sounds like your team, you'll find yourself getting sucked into every single employee conflict that arises from who forgot to make the coffee in the morning to who made a critical mistake on the quarterly sales figures.

If you want your team to start working things out for themselves, you've got to cut that parental cord. First, admit that you've been taking an over-active role, and then make every effort to get your team to seek solutions on their own.

Is This A Good Use Of Your Time?

The first step in encouraging your people to work things out for themselves is to recognize the true value of your time. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey points out that managers often spend too much time dealing with problems that might be urgent, but are not necessarily important. Do you know the difference? According to Covey, an urgent need requires immediate attention, but a need is only as important as its impact on achieving company goals.

An employee who steals other people's parking spaces might be creating an urgent problem, in that people are wasting hours a week complaining about their parking issue. But parking spaces don't stop them from delivering products and services on time, so it's really not important.

For issues that aren't important, you simply don't need to be involved, and you certainly don't want your team taking those problems to senior management if you simply cut them off. Instead, you want to begin to gently guide your employees towards reaching their own resolutions for issues that are urgent, but not important enough to eat up your time.

Cutting The Cord

If you want your team to become masters of their own employee conflict resolution, you've got to empower them to solve their own problems in other areas, as well. When someone comes to you with an issue or a complaint, respond with questions rather than statements. Questions are a great way to plant the seeds of the solution in the person's mind. You might ask things like:

  • What would your ideal solution to this issue be?
  • Have you tried speaking directly to the (person or department) with whom you're having trouble?
  • Who can you think of that might know more than me about this specific issue?
  • If all of the managers were out of the office today, what steps would you take to resolve the issue?

You can also point them in the direction of the tools they need to handle their issues on their own. You might direct them to the portion of the employee handbook or company wiki that speaks to their problem, or you might help them work out one or two possible solutions and then weigh the best option.

The key is to step back and let the employee find his or her way toward a solution. You can guide them there, but don't offer up the solution on a silver platter. Once they are used to dealing with small issues on their own, they will feel empowered to manage larger issues and conflicts on their own, as well.

Knowing When To Step In

You can't avoid every instance of employee conflict that comes up. You will have to get involved from time to time. When a conflict escalates to the point that it's difficult for others to work, deadlines are being missed, or company goals are not being met, it's time for you to step up and step in.

Other signs a conflict requires your intervention:

  • A dramatic change in the behavior in one or both people.
  • Sudden increase in absences.
  • A change in body language or tone of voice that says, "This is escalating to a new level."
  • A dramatic change in productivity or work quality.
  • The conflict is impacting others' ability to do their own work.

It's easy to fall into the trap of solving every little issue that comes across your desk. Many managers feel it's easier just to give the answers and move on. But when it comes to employee conflict resolution, no manager has the time to deal with every issue, disagreement, or petty argument that pops up in a day. Start taking steps to empower your team to discover answers on their own.


Larry Hart

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