Conflict Resolution / Winning Over a Hostile Staff
Heated moments can often arise when a group is working together under stressful conditions. However, depending on an employee's temperament, confrontations can occur even on the best of days. No matter who is at fault, it is up to the leader to resolve conflicts on the team. Whereas debate is healthy, conflict leads only to lowered morale. Often, a conflict involving only one subordinate can affect the entire team, galvanizing employees against the leader.
To resolve a conflict, use these steps:
The employee who initiated the conflict is likely in a very excitable, volatile state. If you are in the same condition, the chances of coming to a resolution are very small. You must remain in control of the situation and avoid giving the employee the sometimes-desired reaction of seeing you shaken.
If the conflict was initiated in front of other group members, ask the employee to go with you to your office or a conference room to discuss the conflict out of the way of prying eyes and ears. The less disturbance the conflict creates for the group, the better.
When an employee feels strongly enough about something to act out, he may cloud the issue by making far-flung accusations and ultimatums. You need to get to the heart of the matter and find out what is really upsetting him. For example, an employee may personally attack your character because he is upset about his salary. Although you may think that he just dislikes you, the real issue is that he dislikes his salary.
Don't dance around the issues. Now is the time to engage in the conflict and acknowledge any correct facts presented by the angry party. Then either agree or disagree with the party. In the example given in step 3, a leader might say, "You're right, your work is worth a lot more, but you haven't been here very long. You haven't even been through a yearly review yet."
Work with the individual to figure out how to change his or her belief that there is a problem. Or if there really is a problem, work on how to alleviate that problem. You might ask the employee how he or she would solve the situation or what he or she would do differently to avoid the problem in the future. Again, to use the example in step 3, a leader might ask the employee to list the reasons his salary should be increased and ask the employee to make a convincing case for an early increase.
If you are a new leader or are heading up a group that has just gone through a restructuring or layoffs, you are likely to encounter a hostile staff. In addition to giving their skills and talents, people often make an emotional investment in their work environment. They get used to a particular routine or niche. They get very close to the individuals with whom they work. They also often feel as if they know more about the business than the leaders do. When that world is rocked, they can become hostile toward the leadership. For example, an individual has been working in the same department for five years. Recently his company was bought by a competitor and his department was downsized. The remaining department was reorganized into a different division and he lost several coworkers. The employee in question probably isn't thinking that the reorganization and layoffs have made the company leaner and stronger. He is thinking that things were fine the way they were and good friends are now out of a job.
Getting a hostile staff to understand new organizational goals and to return to productivity can be extremely difficult. A hostile staff delivers conflict on a grand scale, but many of the steps for dealing with individual conflict (listed previously) also apply.
Additionally, the following may help:
Get the group together and let them know that they are still there because of their skills and professionalism.
Help the group to recommit to old or new organizational roles by restating them and underscoring how the team will contribute to them in the future.
Reward the group in some way. Have an offsite bowling party or take the entire staff to a movie.
Take the time to talk to individuals on the team. You may find that when you talk to them one-on-one, employees have a hard time being as hostile as they are when in a group. Connect with each individual about something positive.
Give the group time to heal. Company upheaval is a difficult time. Once the dust settles, employees will often resettle into a new routine.