If you manage people, you’re more than likely going to have to deal with a conflict between employees. While some conflicts work themselves out, others require you to step in, be the cool head in the room and get your employees to make peace.
Left alone, conflict can lead to decreased job satisfaction, which can lead in turn to increased absenteeism or “presenteeism” — on the job, but not engaged — along with reduced productivity, possible workplace violence and bullying, employee attrition and complaints, among other headaches. Here are some best practices on how to help manage and resolve conflict in the workplace.
Jump on the Situation
Large problem or small, you need to jump on the situation. Conflict between employees affects more than just those who are arguing — it also affects coworkers who have to listen to the constant bickering and customers who have to deal with late or poor-quality products.
Acknowledge the problem and — to the extent the conflict is disrupting the workplace — remove the employees from the scene. You can say something like: “I can see there’s something going on here. Let’s move this to my office [or a neutral room].” Speak normally, but make it clear the scene must be moved immediately.
Get Them Talking
Review your employee handbook to see if your organization has in place a conflict resolution policy that will help you navigate these situations. Some conflicts rise to the level of discrimination or harassment, so it’s crucial to have both policies in place and take appropriate action. If you don’t have a conflict resolution policy, work on creating one as soon as possible and ensure that you apply it consistently among your workforce .
Next, get the employees in question talking. The only way to do that is to meet with them. One after the other, help them calmly share their stories. Acknowledge their frustration but keep the conversation civil. Ask them to state their concerns in no-fault terms, for example, “I feel like I’m out of the loop” rather than, “You never update me.”
Determine the underlying cause of the disagreement. Conflict can occur for many reasons, and it’s important to suss the real reason out. Sometimes the cause might be a clash of working styles, for example, while other times it may lie outside the office — personal, non-work related problems can make an employee short with coworkers.
Once each person knows the other’s story, the employees may come up with their own resolution. If they don’t, you’ll need to take time to review the facts with an unbiased eye to help them find their own solution.
Find a Solution
Your goal is to get the employees focused on their jobs instead of on each other. They don’t have to be best friends, but they do need to have a respectful working relationship. If they come up with a solution on their own, write it down, have both sign it and put it in their files. If they cannot find a common goal, or if the conflict poses further risk to the organization, you may have to move them to different teams on a temporary or permanent basis or consider other options consistent with any applicable policy.
Don’t rule out training as a solution. If training can turn somebody around, the investment would likely be less than the cost of lost production, hiring someone new or a lawsuit for wrongful termination, discrimination or harassment.
Write It Up
Record what happened, as well as the resolution. Ensure that the write-up is fact-based and doesn’t have an emotional tone or bias, or any assumptions or conclusions. Going forward, use these write-ups as behavioral monitors to help spot repeat offenses.
If you decide to take adverse action against an employee, documentation can help you respond to complaints if you are forced to defend or justify your decision. In those circumstances, always considering consulting with experienced employment counsel.
When it comes to conflict between employees, remember that you’re not a psychologist, a professional mediator or your employees’ mother. Always speak calmly and with an impartial tone. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable mediating meetings like these, consider hiring a professional mediator to step in.