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Making the Most of Difficult Interactions

Conflict is bound to arise in any work environment, but knowledgeable leaders understand how to manage it effectively. Through empathy and mutual understanding, difficult workplace interactions can become valuable sources of engagement.

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Conflict is a natural element of workplace interaction. Whether you’re participating in a team, managing a group of subordinates, or simply working with someone else towards a shared goal, conflict can arise for a number of reasons. It’s important to recognize both sides of conflict, though — while it can lead to losses in productivity, lingering resentment, or breakdowns in professional relationships, it can also result in creative ways of addressing challenges that are only found through collaboration. Good-natured disagreement and competition can help all involved parties overcome obstacles, and knowledgable leaders understand the difference between productive discourse and destructive arguing. By identifying what causes conflict and how it can be diffused, employers strengthen their team members’ abilities to communicate with one another, and gain detailed insight on each of their workers’ unique viewpoints.

During a recent EMC event focused on interactions with difficult people, accomplished mental health writer and advocate Donna Marshall discussed the value of patience and flexibility in workplace communication. Leaders should recognize that, while they do hold authority over their subordinates, they cannot control the way that individuals work and think, and must learn when to compromise and when to hold firm. As a result of their unique backgrounds, both professional and personal, people are inherently resistant, and often respond poorly to direction that they disagree with. This aspect of one’s personality does not necessarily mean that they are a disagreeable person, but may denote the need for greater contextual awareness and communication on the part of leadership. Employee trust and autonomy have long been touted by manufacturing professionals as being beneficial to an organization’s productivity, and providing workers with the necessary authority to make decisions can help alleviate feelings of spitefulness towards management. Not every situation can be handled without leadership, of course – in these cases, having appropriate, in-depth discussions with uncooperative parties is key to making them aware of why control is being enforced.

Conflict can often stem from stressful situations, and employees that take on great deals of responsibility tend to develop feelings of anger, anxiety, and/or resentment towards others. In turn, an unwillingness to collaborate typically leads to ambiguities and miscommunications, which are extremely detrimental to otherwise productive workflows. As a leader, in the same way that you delegate tasks to your team members, you should also remain mindful of the amount of work that each employee must complete on their own. Apply your sense of empathy constantly when determining individual workloads, and keep in mind the internal and external factors weighing upon each of your employees’ shoulders. Well-respected leaders are keen to support their staff in any way that they can, and make knowledgeable, informed decisions to empower each individual, not overload them. Maintaining a thorough understanding of the group that you are responsible for by asking questions and communicating frequently will grant you deeper insight into the thoughts, motivations, and actions of your subordinates, and, in turn, builds their knowledge of and respect for your methods of management.

One of the most important elements of leadership in the modern work landscape is the ability to manage conflict through patience, empathy, and a willingness to collaborate. Compromising when possible and taking authority when necessary are integral facets of management in any department, and help keep employees productive, accountable, and engaged.

For more on conflict management and effective leadership strategies, take advantage of the wide range of cultural and management resources available in EMC’s Learning Centre. Attend EMC events frequently for knowledge and expertise crucial to leaders in the Canadian manufacturing industry.

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