As a mediator, and a former community/political organizer, I’ve learned a lot about conflict. I founded Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation because Americans spend more time working than doing anything else - and we deserve to be happy at work. Conflict, while inevitable among humans, can be handled in ways that actually increase happiness.
There are four keys to building a happier workplace, and every one of them will help your employees deal with conflict more productively.
Your mindset is always a choice: When you can, choose curiosity. Someone at work is in your face, or didn’t do something they’re supposed to, or did do something they are not supposed to do. Instead of focusing on blame or disappointment or the person, start asking questions: Why did they behave that way? What might make them do that? What might they be thinking or feeling that would lead them to do or say that thing they did?
Have a conversation with them that focuses on seeking to understand, not blaming, punishing, or rehashing the problem over and over.
Too often, I’ve felt it myself or seen it in others: Our basic first instinct to be kind is squashed, for no other reason than “This is work, I have work to do, I’m not here to make friends.”
The kinder we behave toward each other at work, the more productive we all become. So, yes, take a few minutes to really listen to the response when you ask your coworker or employee how their weekend was or if they’ve got fun plans for their upcoming vacation. Better yet, take some time to reflect on what you know about one coworker and decide to do something kind that is specific to that person. An easy example: Buy a coffee drinker a latte, unasked, with no comment about what you paid or if you used a reward or coupon. Just give them the drink.
Here’s another kind act for work: Write kind words (a compliment, encouragement, a note about how they’ve helped you) in a card or a small, brightly colored sticky note, and leave it on their desk when they’re not there. If you feel like going into more detail in your note, write them a letter.
One more option, for less busy weeks when you have more time: Spend just one week focusing on gratitude. At the end of each work day, take 10-15 minutes to write down at least two things that happened at work that day for which you are grateful. The more detail you go into, the better! Really make the actions you’re thankful for come alive. At the end of the week, look back over this mini-journal, and decide which items you feel comfortable sharing. Then personally thank those people for their actions - be specific, do it in person or in a letter. Research shows that one week spent focusing on a prosocial behavior like expressing gratitude will prime your mind to feel more gratitude and do more kind acts in the future.
There are a few different behaviors that define employee engagement: single-tasking, connecting with other people, and working toward an achievable but challenging goal. No matter what your role is where you work, you can foster a culture that encourages all of these.
Avoid pressuring others - or yourself - to multi-task. If someone’s working on a thing, and you need their attention, don’t let them multitask. Say, “I’ll let you finish that task, talk to me when you take a break from it.”
You may not be able to direct others to change the tasks or goals they work toward, but you can create your own achievable but challenging tasks and goals to work toward. Your manager or a coach can help if you’re not sure what work would best fit this description.
Finally, the more kindly people treat each other, the more engaged they are likely to be. The best employment benefits package in the world will not compensate for people who are actively disengaged and lack a shared purpose.
When you work, you need a purpose that is neither profit nor paycheck. Everyone can find a reason to work that fulfills this requirement; it’s a mental exercise. What does your job put out into the world - for coworkers, consumers, clients, or anyone - that creates some good?
The more openly we talk about a company’s purpose and values, the more likely it is that employees will see a match with their own or begin to identify with the company’s. It does not have to be lofty or about social justice or helping people - it can be anything that fits the employee’s value system. Maybe it is changing the world, or disrupting a system; or, maybe it’s about social status and or having power. The point is simply to understand one’s purpose as part of a larger purpose-driven company.
You don’t need to run a nonprofit or seek to disrupt an industry to talk about purpose at work. Researcher Simon Sinek (author of Start with Why) has a great anecdote about how Apple does this and it makes them the leading technology company (3:06-4:28 in the video at the link).