Every workplace is made up of individuals with different personalities, backgrounds, work habits, values, and ideas. While these differences can bring unique perspectives and other advantages to an employer, they may also result in the occasional conflict among employees. Whether it's a disagreement about how to proceed on a project, what temperature to set the thermostat (actually a somewhat common source of conflict), or who's responsible for certain tasks, if left ignored, disputes can have a negative impact on employees and the business.
Here are some guidelines for resolving employee conflicts:
General Best Practices:
- Identify the underlying issue between employees. For basic work conflicts, you may ask the employees involved to try to work it out themselves or facilitate a conflict-resolution meeting (see below). However, if the conflict involves sexual harassment, discrimination, or other misconduct, it requires a more serious response. Before you try to resolve a conflict, meet with each individual separately and in private. Ask them open-ended questions about what is going on. If you learn that the situation could involve potential misconduct, launch a formal investigation.
- Provide training. Consider providing conflict-resolution training to employees so that they are better equipped to resolve conflicts. Focus on effective communication and problem-solving skills via role-playing and scenarios.
- Maintain open communication. Provide multiple avenues for employees to report problems when they are unable to resolve them on their own. Maintain an open-door policy and encourage employees to come to you with any concerns. Additionally, check in with employees regularly to see how they are doing.
- Improve teamwork. While some conflict in the workplace is inevitable, you can take steps to help reduce the likelihood of it turning into a problem. To help reduce conflict and encourage collaboration among team members, clarify rules and expectations, clearly define roles, and facilitate team-building activities.
- Know when to step in. You may want to intervene before a conflict becomes toxic or potentially damaging to the business. Two employees who refuse to talk to each other over a work conflict can significantly hurt productivity and negatively impact other employees.
Guidelines for Conducting Conflict-Resolution Meetings:
If you decide that the conflict requires intervention, consider the following guidelines:
- Meet with the employees. At the start of the meeting, explain that the goal is to resolve the dispute between the employees. Set ground rules, such as allowing the other side to tell their story without interruption. Encourage employees to view the situation from the other's perspective and to make resolution the priority. During the meeting, be impartial and treat all parties with respect.
- Ask employees to describe the conflict. When eliciting the details of the conflict, ask employees to focus on the present problem (not the person) and to identify their underlying concerns, feelings, and needs. Once you have this basic information, frame the issues in neutral terms and highlight areas where the employees agree.
- Ask employees to develop possible solutions. When appropriate, encourage employees involved in the conflict to collaborate on a solution. This can result in increased commitment from both sides. If collaboration doesn't work, encourage employees to consider a compromise. In some cases, the facilitator may need to identify a solution.
- Make a plan. Once a solution has been identified, outline the actions required from each party. If you are the facilitator, your role is to provide guidance, ask questions to ensure the plan is effective and feasible, and document the plan.
- Monitor and evaluate. After the meeting, follow up with both parties to monitor progress and evaluate whether the plan has successfully resolved the conflict. If the plan wasn't successful or created other conflicts, then identify and evaluate other possible solutions.
Take appropriate steps to prevent and resolve employee conflicts. In some cases, you may need to consult a third-party for help. The goal is to ensure that the conflict has productive outcomes with minimal impact to your business.