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How to manage conflict in the workplace

There is a thin line between a conflict turning into a learning experience and a regrettable scenario

Photos from Rawpixel/Unsplash and Samantha Ong (Isabel Lozano)

Sometimes the hardest part of the job isn’t the job itself, but the environment and the people you deal with on a daily basis. The way employees interact with one another can depend on the situation, but there will be days when they won’t get along and conflict arises. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that there will be disputes, and that at some point you are going to have to step in as manager. So what should you do? And how can you avoid being a biased manager who makes squabbles worse?

Isabel Lozano of The Experience Collective has dealt with many similar situations with restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and managers locally and abroad, and she observes that the Filipino workplace culture is different as it is more “friendly” and sensitive to others’ emotions.

COMMON REASONS OF DISPUTE

Employee disputes often stem from various factors since the workplace is a collection of different people with different personalities, beliefs, values, and skills. Based on Lozano’s experience, envy is the most common reason for employee disputes among local establishments, which causes employees to badmouth co-workers and drag them down whenever there’s a chance. As managers, you should carefully observe your employees and their behavioral patterns: what triggers them to show certain personalities, what keeps them motivated and interested in their job, and when do they lack self-awareness. In order to do this, there should be constant communication and coaching with your staff so that everyone is familiar with each other and they can communicate well.

Isabel Lozano
KNOWING BOUNDARIES

Constant communication doesn’t mean knowing everything about them. Conflict can turn complicated and unmanageable if you don’t know your limitations and boundaries with your employees. Because the Filipino culture can be really kind and easy towards others, the workplace may seem like an informal setting where employees treat each other like brother and sister, even with their superiors. “Managers shouldn’t really hang out with their staff in a too familiar way because when they discipline them, their emotions can get in the way and it can put a strain to the working relationship,” says Lozano. Being too close to a select number of employees can also leave an impression that the managers have their favorites. Avoid frequent exchange of personal issues, jokes, and banter with your employees. “The kind of love that managers should have with their employees is that of a parent. It allows to have room for discipline to take place.” Don’t be hesitant to explain to them and make them realize (but not in public) the gravity of their mistakes, or if they crossed the line.

As managers, you should carefully observe your employees and their behavioral patterns: what triggers them to show certain personalities, what keeps them motivated and interested in their job, and when do they lack self-awareness.

DEALING WITH “DIFFICULT” EMPLOYEES

Handling troublesome employees can vary depending on the gravity of their difficulty and how they affect the workplace. The establishment or company should follow and implement necessary disciplinary actions implemented. “When companies don’t follow their own disciplinary guidelines, it shows how ineffective the executives and the managers are.” The best time to take action is when there is substantial proof that the employee has a consistent record of wrongdoing and is affecting the performance of others. Of course, managers should never disregard whatever situation their employee is in. “Your staff’s moods and the current state of their personal lives will inevitably affect the business, so no issue is too shallow to resolve,” says Lozano.

MANAGERS CAN’T DO EVERYTHING

But despite all the roles and responsibilities that managers are entailed to fulfill, they simply can’t do everything by themselves. “In every company that I work with, I always ask if they have a HR department. Here in the Philippines, a lot of managers are not trained to handle disputes. But then again managers are not psychiatrists or financial advisers or the police. Any serious dispute should be handed over to the HR department, and they [ideally] should have all kinds of counselors for the employees’ needs as part of their benefits. By having a reliable HR department, it professionalizes your company and it helps the manager carry out their tasks accordingly.”

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