We’ve all encountered one. The loud talker. The perpetual throat clearer. The stinky food eater.
In an office environment where diverse employees work in close proximity, these minor annoyances can become major distractions, and can even result in loss of productivity.
But as a business leader, you don’t have time to address every employee squabble. That’s why it’s important for your employees to be able to work through these types of issues themselves.
Here are some tips to help you teach your employees how to address their co-workers’ annoying workplace habits.
1. Provide lots of training
Basic conflict resolution training is an absolute must. All new employees should receive this training as part of their new hire orientation. Define acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and provide a step-by-step process on how to assess and address conflicts when they arise. Add these definitions and processes to your employee handbook so employees can refer to them as needed.
Conflict resolution is a valuable skill, within and outside of the workplace, so this type of training is a great development tool.
While it’s not possible to predict every scenario, basic conflict resolution skills – such as listening, emotional intelligence, empathy, collaboration and compromise – will lay the groundwork for successful communication between employees.
2. Teach. Practice. Repeat.
Giving your employees a foundation of conflict resolution training is just the beginning. Some people lack the emotional intelligence to understand how their concerns would sound to the offender.
When a conflict arises, coach your employees through the communication process and help them practice what they’re going to say. Emphasize the person exhibiting the annoying behavior likely does not realize they are being obnoxious or disruptive to their co-workers. Ask a series of guiding questions and fine-tune the tone or words as needed.
Let’s say one of your employees, Michelle, tends to speak in a much louder voice when she is feeling stressed. Jessica, who sits in the cubicle next to her, is bothered by Michelle’s voice volume to the point where she feels it interferes with her work. Jessica approaches you with her concerns.
Asking questions like “If someone were addressing this issue with you, how would you feel?” will prompt Jessica to think things through carefully, and will give you a chance to make adjustments if her message isn’t coming across the right way.
Jessica might want to say, “You are so loud, it’s driving me nuts! Can you please be quieter?”
But with coaching and practice, Jessica will be able to calmly communicate her concerns with more tact. “Michelle, I’ve noticed that your voice tends to get louder when you’re stressed. I’m sorry you’re feeling stressed, but when you speak loudly I find it distracting, and it’s keeping me from doing my work.”
3. Follow up
Hold your employees accountable. After you’ve practiced what they’re going to say, get a commitment from them in the moment about when they will address the offender. Then follow up and ask for feedback so you know it has been addressed.
If it didn’t go well or someone was offended, pull both employees in and help them work through it together. Try to temper the emotions and help them understand each other’s perspective.
If Michelle was offended by Jessica’s approach, ask questions to find out what went wrong. Did Jessica lack empathy, or did Michelle misunderstand her intentions? Remind Jessica that Michelle is not intentionally being loud, and communicate to Michelle that it’s not personal, it’s affecting Jessica’s productivity.
Your role is to be a facilitator and guide to help them work through it on their own, not to solve the issue for them.
4. Intervene when necessary
Most grievances should be able to be resolved between employees. However, certain workplace complaints – those that concern issues of privacy or safety, for example – should be addressed by the business leader. You will need to take the lead for particularly sensitive issues, such as body odor, medical issues or any potential workplace violence situations.
While these can sometimes be difficult conversations, it is important to address them promptly and from a neutral perspective.
5. Take everything seriously
Be prepared to have some people come to you for the smallest of complaints. Even if it seems minor to you, keep in mind that it is a big deal to the person who is complaining. If you dismiss their concerns, you risk damaging your relationship and breaking the trust they place in you as their leader.
Let your employees know you are there to help them learn how to work it out on their own. No matter the complaint, always offer guidance and talk through any issues. Reinforce your role as a coach, and with enough practice your employees will learn to work through these issues themselves.
For more tips on how to be the best coach for your employees, download our free guide, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.