5 Steps for Managing Employee Conflict in the Workplace
As we have discussed in a previous blog post, the first step in managing employee conflict is realizing its existence and understanding the cause of the conflict. Who is involved, what is the relationship between the people on the opposite sides, and to what extent does it affect the working environment of your business?
Afterward, it’s time to resolve the conflict effectively so that you can refocus on growing your business. We know it sounds overwhelming because it seems to be outside of the business scope to deal with people fighting. However, the truth is that acquiring conflict management skills and strategies to be applied in the workplace, is actually an indicator of a great business leader. Where there are people, disputes and quarrels will arise and you better be prepared.
Don’t worry. We are here for you!
We have gathered tested methods and created a course of action with simple steps to show you how to handle conflict in the workplace.
Let’s dig in.
Steps in Managing Employee Conflict in the Workplace
#1 Embrace conflict
This is a fundamental idea, and you will find great benefit in turning this attitude into a state of mind. If you think about it, before anything good happens, there is a phase of disturbance and tension. That is because uncomfortable situations are the greatest indicators that something is not working and needs to be changed. Maybe everything was great in your business for some time, but as companies grow and evolve, employee roles and duties change.
Caught up in the daily routine, we miss the points of change and that is how frustration starts to arise. Until we realize that the time has come to leave the old ways of working behind.
In other words, if there is something wrong with your business you would like to know about it, right? Right. Conflict is like a huge neon sign with the message: “This is not working anymore”.
This perspective will also give you a more optimistic attitude when dealing with conflict in the workplace. And it dissolves a great myth about conflict, that it should never happen. Avoiding conflict and confrontation will only prolong the issues in the workplace until a huge tension breakout, or to the point that one of your teammates leaves your company.
#2 Define the problem
It is now time to put your empathy and people skills in action. The starting point of all conflict resolution and management methods ever suggested, is to listen. Listen carefully to what the two conflicting parties say. Especially if strong emotions are involved, people must tell their story and get it out of their system.
When rationality seems to start taking over again, ask a few questions to understand what the actual problem is.
One of the most effective approaches at this point, is to ask questions like: “Let me see if I get it clearly, you are upset because …?” or “So, you feel that you were insulted/overlooked…?”.
That way, you show that you have been listening and you really care. It will sooth the mood of the people involved and make them open up to a solution. More often than not, both sides are right from their point of view. You would probably interpret the situation the same way if you were in their shoes. And talking them from such a place of understanding is how you should deal with and resolve conflict within a team at work, especially as a manager.
When you have a clear picture from both sides, you will know what both sides need to feel better and from that point on, managing employee conflict gets easier. And let’s not forget that we have also put the exaggeration of emotions aside.
#3 Reprocess the fight
It is time to restart. Call the teammates involved in for a new conversation. There is only one golden rule. Focus on the situation, not the person.
Describe the situation as it is and the negative results it had. State the aspects of the problem as you see them and let the disputers discuss the issue, stopping them every time they try to blame each other.
Remember, you are managing employee conflict now, and you set the tone the whole team should follow. Ask them to express how they felt, why they reacted the way they did, and what they want from the situation. They are to speak for themselves only and not about what they assume or believe for their colleague.
This is crucial. As a leader, you listen, you pay attention, you must be there to help each and every one of your teammates! No picking sides or characterizations. Also, you should kindly remind them that no matter how loud they shout or how emotional they get, this is a working space and respect is non-negotiable.
Ah! The trickiest part of them all. You have discussed and now you know how pissed your employees are. But how do you actually resolve the conflicts that arise among employees or managers?
The best start is trying to find common grounds. If this seems difficult, resort to generalizations.
For instance, use phrases like: “We can all agree that we work better in a calm and friendly environment” or “So, we all agree that it is best to find a way to let this thing behind and move on.” Make proposals. Delegate some projects in a different way, change team leaders or offices, in a way that serves both parties. If necessary, come up with standard processes, procedures, and deadlines altogether.
Remember what we have already mentioned about conflicts being opportunities. Here is where you realize that changes are necessary and start defining how you are going to deal with and manage this conflict, and actually change. So, be the first to go forth and establish a new culture. Set the example and show your determination to make things work.
Which takes as to the last step of managing employee conflict…
#5 Lead the way
Define and point out acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. If you are involved in a confrontation and have wronged your teammates, apologize. When angry, take time to calm down and then react. Never characterize your teammates or allow gossip. Be the first to express disagreement in a civilized manner.
Forgive and forget easily since, truth be told, we all get a bit freaky at the workplace and steam off a bit dramatically sometimes. As for the fight, don’t hold grudges to anyone and do not mention past conflicts again.
A step that is not always necessary to resolve a conflict between two employees, but it wouldn’t hurt as well, is to check the progress a few days later. After a day or two, ask them casually if they are feeling better and inspect the relationship between them. Do not look for friendly. We cannot all be friends. Look for respectful, civilized, and collaborative.
Conflict resolution is important for employee productivity!
The truth is that, in the end, we all want to be happy and productive. Another truth is that the majority of us does not want to deal with confrontation, especially at work. This is not a task to avoid, though. When managing employee conflict, remember that everybody responds better to understanding than to criticism and judgment. With that in mind, next time your employees start fighting, just listen, understand, change, and move on. Create a culture of understanding in your company and you may witness productivity miracles!