Fill an office with multiple people, all with varying personalities and world views, and then add deadlines, high workloads and all the stress that entails. In the end, you have a scenario ripe for conflict. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that disagreements and arguments in the workplace are incredibly common. From strained interpersonal relationships to ineffective communication, employee conflicts can occur for any number of reasons. While difficult and uncomfortable, most employee conflicts can be resolved before they escalate, particularly if managers or human resources representatives step in to mediate.
If you’re a manager and are unsure how best to handle conflict in the workplace, read on. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide with some surefire tips for conflict resolution success:
1. Recognize when intervention is needed
Given how common employee conflict is, it is first important to understand when it is actually appropriate to intervene. Professor of management at Bentley College, Joseph F. Byrnes, told Business Management Daily that it is sometimes prudent not to intervene at all in small disputes. Oftentimes employee conflict can be settled independently by the involved parties without your assistance. The key then is understanding when intervention is necessary. Byrnes explained that when a dispute begins to impact the work performance of the involved parties and negatively affects other employees, or when it escalates to the point where extreme anger or even violence are possibility, then it is time to get involved.
“It is important to understand when it is actually appropriate to intervene.”
2. Meet with each individual on their own
In order to remain a neutral mediator, it is important that you first meet with each person individually, ideally in a private setting such as your office or a conference room. As the Houston Chronicle explained, the point of this is to get each individual’s side of the story, without interruption. This will allow you to gauge a more complete understanding of what likely occurred. It is also a show of neutrality – if you give each party the freedom to recount their version of events they will feel more listened to and will likely be more willing to work toward a resolution. The source stressed, however, that it is important not to appear to agree with any one individual, even if you do personally tend to agree with one person over another. Keep your tone and your language neutral while still offering support to the employee in question. The University of California Berkeley also explained that there’s a chance that involved employees may be angry or upset. That’s okay – let each individual express his or her emotions to you, and actively listen to their concerns, making notes while doing so.
One you have met with each employee individually, you will be in a better position to understand the problem. The Houston Chronicle advised documenting the issue, highlighting the major issues that need to be resolved. This will no doubt prove useful later on.
3. Schedule a meeting
The next step is to arrange a group meeting with all involved parties, the Houston Chronicle detailed. Ensure that the meeting takes place somewhere private and be sure to articulate the goal of the meeting beforehand. As UC Berkeley noted, the objective of any conflict resolution meeting should be. To find a way of resolving tension, healing working relationships and creating goals or objectives to reduce the risk of conflict occurring in the future. UC Berkeley explained that conflict resolution meetings should not be used for disciplinary purposes – nobody should receive blame or be reprimanded. Instead the objective should always be to put an end to the dispute, allowing all affected parties to move on.
4. Allow everybody to speak
All Business stated that it is important to let each individual explain how they feel and articulate how they perceive the conflict. Allowing everyone to speak helps create a neutral, unbiased atmosphere. There is a chance that one or more parties may become aggravated or angry and try to interrupt while another is speaking. Do not allow this to happen. Create firm rules that silence is expected while each person speaks, and to keep it as fair as possible assign each individual the same amount of time to make their case.
5. Encourage active listening
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it is important to encourage all parties to be cordial. Stress that it is necessary for each person to listen actively to what the other has to say, while demonstrating respect and understanding. Make it clear that any anger, rudeness or disrespect will not be tolerated.
6. Look for a solution
Once the varying perspectives on the issue at hand have been vocalized, work with your employees to devise a solution or compromise on which everyone can agree, All Business advised. This may take some time, but finding some form of common ground is definitely possible. Once a plan for moving forward has been established, make each employee pledges to work their hardest to ensure that the conflict doesn’t arise again.
7. End the meeting on a positive note
Be sure to champion a positive and constructive message throughout the meeting. Once the discussion has ended, encourage all parties to apologize, SHRM explained. Once apologies have been offered it is useful to have everyone shake hands and agree to move on from the dispute.
8. Disseminate notes after the meeting
As with any significant work meeting, it is helpful to take notes for future reference, the Houston Chronicle explained. This is especially important in the case of conflict resolution, as you’ll be able to refer back to the notes if you find that not everyone is complying with the agreements reached. The source explained that each employee involved should receive a copy, as well as human resources.
9. Consider conflict resolution training
Finally, a truly effective way to tackle workplace conflict is to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place. This means conducting training sessions for employees about how best to communicate and how to resolve conflict in a healthy and productive way, All Business outlined. If your staff are equipped with these skills, it’s likely that most problems will be resolved privately, without the need for intervention from management and HR.
AlphaStaff can help
Mediating staff conflict should always be conducted in partnership with a trusted human resources team. If your business is currently without HR employees consider enlisting the services of an HR outsourcing company. AlphaStaff, in particular, offers a range of HR solutions to meet your every need, including support for managers in cases of staff conflict. Click here to learn more.