Conflict in the workplace is a dreaded topic for many HR managers and business owners. Why can't everyone just get along? Unfortunately, conflict is somewhat unavoidable, especially as you increase your worker base and add more personalities to your workplace. It's important, therefore, that you have a solid plan in place that will allow you to mediate conflict in the workplace and more effectively move employees towards resolution.
By following these key tips, you can substantially improve your conflict resolution efforts and make your company a better place to work:
Tip #1: Don't Get Personally Involved
"But he told me..." "Do you have any idea what she did?"
Whether you're the owner of a small company or the HR manager of a big corporation, you want to avoid getting personally involved in employee conflicts. In some cases, that can be difficult--especially if you genuinely like one of the parties involved in the conflict and don't care for the other one. In order to successfully mediate the conflict, however, you must maintain impartiality. That means sticking to the rules that your organization uses to govern these situations as well as keeping your personal feelings about the issue out of it.
Tip #2: Acknowledge the Challenge
Conflict doesn't arise because things are flowing smoothly in the workplace. Sometimes, it happens because of fundamental personality conflicts. Other times, tension within the workplace environment may create higher levels of conflict. Whatever is going on, if it's escalated to you, your first step should be to acknowledge the challenge your workers are facing. It can be helpful to define each individual's view of the problem and to see if you can identify the underlying need that is leading to the conflict between employees.
For example, there may be an underlying need for more space in the department to allow employees to complete their daily job tasks more effectively. In other cases, the need may be for understanding of a specific situation or regulation. Whatever the case, taking the time to acknowledge and define that need is one of the most effective ways to develop a better understanding of the situation.
Tip #3: Listen to Both Sides
When you're dealing with strong personalities, the challenge may not be getting them to voice their opinions. The biggest problem may be getting one of them to listen long enough for the other to express an opinion! With more passive personalities, on the other hand, it may be difficult to get one or both individuals to express their side of the conflict.
In order to resolve it effectively, however, it's important that you understand both sides of the conflict. Encourage each individual to listen while the other one tells their side, rather than interrupting. This will enable you to get the full picture of the problem and can help better suggest a solution to the challenges your employees are facing.
Tip #4: Know When Your Help is Needed
You don't want to have to step in every time there's a spat over someone leaving their leftovers in the office fridge over the weekend. On the other hand, you don't want to allow conflicts to escalate to the point that employees are threatening to quit--or worse, already quitting--over the issue. Before you step in to deal with conflict in the workplace, ask yourself these key questions:
- Has this conflict gone on for too long?
- Is the conflict starting to escalate? That is, has the issue become significantly more serious, especially if it's recently escalated or there is the potential for danger to one or more employees?
- Are employees seemingly unable to reach a resolution on their own?
- Are employees in danger of quitting as a result of the ongoing conflict?
- Is this an issue that is impacting employee productivity or drawing in others in the office?
Tip #5: Understand the Benefits of Resolution
When there's conflict in the workplace, you face a number of challenges. First and foremost, a difficult working environment is enough to make the most loyal employee start to think about walking out one day and never coming back--and hiring and training new employees is expensive! Not only that, employees who are engaged in conflict are less productive than those who are working in a smooth working environment. By understanding the benefits of a peaceful conflict resolution, you can improve the odds that you'll successfully navigate this process with your workers.
Tip #6: Make the Participants Responsible
It takes two people to create conflict--no matter how difficult one of the participants is being. Therefore, there should be at least two (or more, if more parties are involved) people responsible for crafting a solution. When you sit down for a conflict resolution meeting, make it obvious that the parties who have been engaged in the conflict are the ones responsible for finding and carrying out a solution. You, as an observer, are able to offer suggestions and help guide the process in an acceptable direction. You may also be able to commit company resources to finding a solution--for example, providing each employee with a piece of equipment that they've been fighting over or shifting workstations so that one employee's proclivity for tapping their pen repeatedly is no longer disturbing their nearest neighbor.
In the end, however, it's the employees who have been struggling with one another who will be responsible for crafting a solution--and responsible for sticking with it. Remind them that they need to come up with a solution that they can both live with, then remind them that you don't want to see any further conflict over this issue.
Dealing with conflict in the workplace can be both challenging and stressful. Over time, however, you'll develop more effective strategies for dealing with employee conflict. As a result, you'll discover that you're in a better position to deal with them. By utilizing these tips, you can make dealing with conflict easier and make it easier to reach a resolution that is acceptable to both parties--not to mention one that is acceptable to the company as a whole.