Be an Expert at Minimizing and Addressing Workplace Conflict

Conflict with those your work with is not something that's easy to talk about, but you're bound to come across a disagreement (or several) over the course of you career in hospitality. The industry is demanding and often stressful, requiring quite a bit of team work and cooperation to succeed during periods of high demand. Because of this, it's important to learn and practice certain skills that allow you to navigate conflict in a professional manner so you can quickly move on and avoid a lag in productivity.

1. Communicate clearly

Most conflicts are a direct result of a communication failure between two people.

It's easier to understand where these failures can happen when you look at the "7 C's" of communication, listed as follows:

  1. Completeness

  2. Concreteness

  3. Courtesy

  4. Correctness

  5. Clarity

  6. Consideration

  7. Conciseness

We are constantly communicating with others from the moment we wake up and scroll through our phones, answering emails and text messages, to our eight-plus hour shifts at work, to our leisure time - with parents, friends, coworkers, managers, customers, and so on.

As hospitality professionals, we are all aware that when the peak hours hit (especially in the food & beverage industry), we can occasionally fail to consider one of the "7 C's" and find that our message might not be received in the manner that it was intended. Be mindful of not only the information you need to get across, but the way in which it is delivered. Tone and word choice, along with your overall demeanor, can make the difference between a successful communication and an unnecessary fight. Learn to take a step back and distance your words from your emotions when the going gets tough. Master the 7 C's, and you'll soon find that your day breezes by without a hitch.

2. Develop emotional intelligence

Most people who thrive in hospitality already have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is defined as "the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically." It's difficult to succeed in a fast-paced, high-stress environment without it. If you thrive on change and are generally skilled an handling conflict, you probably already know exactly what emotional intelligence means in the context of your job. On the other hand, if you find yourself frequently overwhelmed or prone to arguing, you may need to spend some time working on this characteristic. To do so, it can be helpful to gather tools (such as meditation or breathing techniques) that distance you from negative emotions and allow you to focus on the task at hand. Form an empathic point of view when a conflict arises and you'll be better able to work through it quickly and seamlessly.

3. Address the conflict as soon as possible

If a dispute arises, you may not always be able to address it immediately. For example, if you're bartending during a busy shift and a waitress delivers three incorrect drink orders, it's not a good idea to immediately confront her during the rush. However, don't wait multiple days to have a discussion. Addressing a conflict as quickly as possible will minimize the potential for a negative long-term effect, which can put a damper on your working environment. Start with your 7 C's, and voice your concern politely without raising your voice. Listen actively and analyze the other person's point of view, remaining empathetic to what they might be going through. Sometimes, you'll have to agree to disagree. However, if you try to ignore the conflict altogether, you'll only make it worse.

4. Don't expose customers to the conflict

It may seem obvious, but it's amazing how frequently this rule is ignored. A conflict that takes place in front of a customer (even if he or she is out of eyeshot, but can still hear the conversation) is the quickest way to lose your business. There is nothing more uncomfortable than witnessing a dispute between two employees, especially in the event that the dispute revolves around a customer's request. If you do need to have a conversation with a boss or coworker, make sure to remove yourself entirely from any areas where customers might be present.

On the other hand, if a conflict arises between yourself and a customer, or between a customer and another employee, learn strategies for deescalation (empathize with the customer, remain calm, and offer whatever is within realm of possibility to address their concern or request). When necessary, involve a superior such as a manager or owner so that he or she can handle the situation while you carry on with your own responsibilities.

5. Define acceptable behavior

You know what they say about the word "assume."

Having a predetermined definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Create a framework for decision-making, and make sure your coworkers, managers, etc., are on the same page about these policies. In addition, know your job description and keep a list of your responsibilities (and stick to them). This way, everyone knows what's expected of them and, when situations become murky, there's a clearly articulated chain of command to fall back on.

6. Enforce core values

Core values are key underlying principles that support the vision of what you hope to accomplish as a business owner or member of a team. These values articulate not only your overall mission, but also your company culture and ethics. In hospitality, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget about why you're here in the first place. Keep core values present to remind yourself and your team of what you're striving for. These guiding principles can bring you together, improve teamwork, and prevent conflict by encouraging morale.

Your business or company may already have core values in place, but if not, it can be helpful to speak with your manager or superior to find out what values they consider to be most important. If you are a manager, make sure you have core values and that your team knows them backwards and forwards. Some examples that we see frequently mentioned include respect, creativity, consistency, teamwork, and dependability. Feel free to add to and adjust the list over time; you may find that some values resonate with your employees better than others.

7. Organize (and participate in) team building events

Team building activities have been proven to increase productivity, promote leadership, and help people learn how to manage and successfully navigate conflict. Build a strong, high-performing team of staff members by holding one or two of these events each year, and make sure everyone participates. Try to encourage more senior-level employees to interact with new hires and spend some time conversing with someone you don't normally work closely with. You'll find that, afterwards, everyone will have improved their communication skills, learned something new about each other, and developed a higher degree of empathy and cooperation.

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