Two people showing conflict by pulling rope in tug-of-war

Office Conflicts: What to Do When Your Kingdom Isn’t So Magical

One moment you think things are fine. Employees are working well as a team and those with differing opinions are even respectful to one another. You could say that “all is well in the kingdom.”

Then registration for the upcoming school season rolls around and you suddenly feel like a referee at a hockey game instead of the lord over the peaceful kingdom. You hear nothing but complaints and grumblings at a time when you need everyone to just be about their jobs.

It is impossible to think that a workplace can always operate smoothly. There are going to be conflicts when you have a bunch of people working together. The magic returns to the kingdom when you understand how to handle conflict and how to use it. After all, conflict can be beneficial to your center, inspiring and encouraging change, creativity, innovation and progress.

It is important to identify and understand the areas where most conflict originates:

Clarity (or actually the lack thereof) Boundaries must be clearly defined for several difference reasons but one of the most important is so that employees do not struggle/argue over who is supposed to do what. When employees have clear job descriptions that define exactly what is expected of them, what they are responsible for and who they answer to arguments or turf wars rarely happen.

Chain of command (who has access to what) This is related to clarity as well but also crosses into the office politics camp. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities with org charts and access rights gives everyone their parameters so that there are no questions. If there are no questions about who, what, when or where, then there are no arguments.

Budgets (and not just when there is a shortfall) When people are asked to cut back and to do more with less, expect arguments. Whose project should be kept if budgets cause some to be cut? Where should resources be applied if they cannot be evenly distributed? And when there are excess budgetary resources, expect arguments as well. Because then the argument will be that this one got more than that one and why didn’t my idea get funded etc. Neither end of the spectrum is a pretty sight. One way to head this off at the pass is to get everyone involved in the allocation process so that they can see how spending (and cutting) decisions are made.

Goal alignment (keep your eyes on the right prize) When any member of the team gets their personal goals ahead of the goals of the organization, there will be problems. And it is even a bigger mess if multiple employees stray from the unified goal. It is important to consistently remind the entire team (you included) of how important it is to maintain focus on organizational goals.

Keeping your eye on these areas can help you to see the conflict coming so you can do three things: 1) nip its detrimental impact in the bud, 2) benefit from the healthy collaboration it can inspire and 3) identify potential larger issues that may be on the verge of erupting.

As their leader, you need to give your employees the tools they need to resolve the issues causing conflict instead of just being the hockey referee.

  • Guidance from you will encourage them to work things out for themselves.
  • Ask employees what they have done to overcome the situation. (Don’t just pose the question – make sure you get an answer)
  • Seek out the cause of the conflict and its point of origin.
  • Help the conflicted individuals focus on the behavior and not on their personalities. Focusing on personality is what may have gotten them in trouble to begin with)
  • Don’t allow any complaints to be deflected to you but direct them back to the person that the complainant is in conflict with. Your role is to offer suggestions – not solve the problems.
  • Was it a happy ending? Of course, a magical kingdom would have happy endings, so find out conflicts are resolved every time – and provide feedback to the parties involved on their results.

Conflict isn’t one of those “what ifs” that “could” happen in your kingdom. It WILL happen. So you may as well train for it. There are online and onsite resources that can help with this. Training in this area will help you keep the magic alive in your kingdom, create more magic and stop potential dream-killers before they mature. Whatever method you choose, it is important to do this for your own security and peace of mind and for your employees. It is a worthy investment in the workplace, in your employees’ well-being and in your end results – the experience that your families and students have with your center.

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