Employees across all businesses experience conflict at some point. Personal disagreements grow into professional disputes that make team members uncomfortable and impact the quality of work. As a manager, you might be called in to mediate the problem or could insert yourself when it starts to affect work. You have a chance to help your team members resolve their conflicts and move past their disagreements. However, this isn't always easy.
Read this guide if you want to learn how to resolve conflict between employees. These seven steps can provide a plan of action to address the problem early and solve it thoroughly.
1. Understand the Root Problem of the Conflict
By the time you are aware of the issue, two employees might have several problems with each other. One action can cause retaliation and start a series of back-and-forth fights. Additionally, one employee may be building a case against another with a long list of grievances. Your job is to start at the beginning. Determine the first problem one employee had with the other. This could be a singular event or it could be a personality trait. The root cause will determine how you move forward with handling conflict.
2. Ask Employees to Be Professional and Sort it Out Themselves
At first, if you are aware of a conflict, you might want to ask employees to solve the problem themselves. After all, you work with adults. They can act in a professional way. If you aren't sure whether they know how to solve the conflict, provide materials they can use to voice their problems and come to a compromise. This is a good first step because it allows employees to be mature and saves you the time and energy of mediation.
An important skill as a manager is to know when to step in. If self-mediation doesn't work or the issue is too big to handle alone, you need to support your team by offering employee conflict resolution.
3. Listen to Both Sides
As a manager, you need to be unbiased in your evaluation of the problem. You owe it to both of your staff members to listen to them objectively and determine the root cause of the problem and which behavior was inappropriate as a result.
This is easier said than done. You may have a good personal relationship with one of your employees and not want to cause a rift — even if that individual instigated the problem. However, if the rest of your staff notices you play favorites and choose your friends over the truth, then they won't come to you for problem-solving in the future. You might even have higher employee turnover rates because employees think there's a “boys club” or “clique of friends” that overrides professionalism.
4. Determine the Main Issue Together
The root cause and the main issue might be two different things. For example, Employee A may not like the personality of Employee B, but the main issue could be how Employee A refuses to put Employee B on the schedule and won't communicate changes with her. In this case, understanding the root cause and the main issue can help you make decisions to resolve conflict as a manager. You may understand that while Employee A needs to change her behavior, Employee B might not feel comfortable sharing office space together.
You might need to talk to each party individually to fully understand the problem. That way, you can get an honest answer from each person.
5. Review Company Policies to Ensure All Requirements Are Fulfilled
Your company handbook and HR resources may provide steps for resolving conflict in the workplace. These documents can be incredibly valuable for managers who are new to dealing with workplace conflict. You might also need to legally fill out certain documents to make a note of the conflict in the event additional complaints are filed against the fighting employees.
Review your HR compliance documents periodically so you are prepared when you need to resolve conflict.
6. Find a Solution
Once you have a clear view of the situation, you can move toward a resolution. You can come up with multiple solutions and let your team members pick which one they want, or you can make a decision you expect your staff members to accept. You want to come up with a solution that makes both parties happy and prevents conflict in the long run.
As you learn how to resolve conflict in the workplace, you will get better at letting employees form their own solutions. This allows them to come up with a plan they can agree to, even if both parties have to compromise. An employee-created plan of action might be effective because it won't seem like an order from their boss. Your team members may be more willing to accept the terms if they create them.
7. Train Them How to Communicate
An important part of conflict resolution for managers is preventing future issues. If employees can solve problems themselves, then they won't run to your office and disrupt the overall production workflow. You can train employees to communicate on a small scale, teaching as you mediate to prevent future problems, or you can hold quarterly staff development training with your entire department.
Communication is frequently at the core of conflict. Employees might withhold information or communicate in a way that causes confusion. By improving the skills of your staff as a whole, you can prevent professional and personal disputes because of communication issues.
Never assume your team already knows how to communicate and solve problems on their own. Make the expectation explicit, and give employees the tools they need.
Know When to Seek Out Additional Help
Your employees likely came to you as a manager because you can provide an unbiased point of view. You are a moderator and an expert in resolving conflict. However, there are going to be situations when the conflict is out of your control. If this is the case, know when to get your human resources team involved. A few times to reach out to human resources, or even an outside mediator, include:
- When your mediation efforts fail.
- When employees are threatening to quit or calling for the other to get fired.
- When disagreements are personal (or nonwork-related).
- When legal issues are involved.
- When recurring issues need to be addressed.
Working with your HR team or an outside source may provide insight and conflict solutions you had not thought of before. Plus, reaching out for help could open the door for solutions that are outside your management level — such as transferring employees to different departments.
Your employees came to you for help, and it is OK to ask for help yourself.
Workplace conflict management takes time and practice to master. Start with smaller disputes, and reach out to a mentor to review your actions to see how they could be improved. As you become more confident in your leadership and mediation abilities, you can know how to solve certain conflicts and when to refer them to a human resources professional. This will help your team work together in the best way possible, even if the occasional conflict arises.