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Develop interpersonal communications and conflict-management skills to better manage employee relations.
When was the last time you took a good look at your workforce? What did you see? You probably saw a rapidly changing group of employees that is getting more diverse by the day. The accelerated growth of diversity in the workforce over the past 20 years has spawned new developments in managing employee relations, making it one of the biggest challenges facing managers.
To meet this challenge, managers must improve skills such as active listening, adaptability and decision-making. These core skills can assist supervisors and managers in tackling difficult issues that may arise within their workforce.
However, while the skills mentioned above are key, this article focuses on the two most important skills for managing employee relations: interpersonal communications and conflict management.
The first skill for managers to understand and practice is interpersonal communications, because it is the foundation for all actions in the workplace and it allows the supervisor or manager an opportunity to build relationships with the overall workgroup without alienating anyone in the work environment. Working with diverse groups of people requires a tremendous amount of interaction. If these interactions are positive, they can help create the right workplace climate, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
In addition, because interactions occur daily, it is important for managers to have the respect of their employees. If this respect is absent, the supervisor or manager will have a difficult time getting things accomplished.
In a June 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled “Understanding ‘People’ People,” Timothy Butler and James Waldroop identify four dimensions to optimize interpersonal communications:
With respect to the four relational dimensions, it is important to note that a manager can have a profound interest in one, two, three or all four dimensions. It is also important to understand that managers need to keep these dimensions in mind when engaging diverse groups, developing people and creating employee relations strategies.
The second skill for managers to leverage is conflict management. Learning to leverage this skill can help in resolving employee relations issues quickly and effectively, and can create greater satisfaction with the workgroup. There are seven components to effective conflict management:
As stated in the seven points above, conflict management requires a great deal of listening, clearly articulating the issues, asking questions and providing solutions. Using these techniques to improve your conflict- management skills will go a long way in fostering positive employee relations with a workforce.
“Employee relations in the workplace will continuously test the mental fortitude and physical endurance of managers in all industries,” says Billy D. Ihrig, group director of labor and employee relations at Ryder Inc. in Miami. “Understanding the importance to getting at the root causes of employee relation issues will be the impetus for improved employee relations, increased credibility with the workforce and the establishment of a positive workplace for years to come.”
This article has described two anchor skills—interpersonal communications and conflict management—that managers can use to improve employee relations in the workplace. Incorporating interpersonal communications and conflict management into your employee relations strategy could result in interactions that are more positive and less combative.
Remember, no organization wants to be known as one that doesn’t foster strong employee relations. To survive in a highly competitive business environment, organizations want to attract and retain the best talent from all walks of life and be known as the employer of choice.
Greg Roper, Ph.D., is a registered organizational development professional and region director of human resources at Frito Lay Inc. with over 12 years of experience in managing employee relations and change. He has research and writing interest in diversity, employee relations and employee involvement.
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