Dealing With Employee Conflict: What to Do

July 18, 2019

Anyone who has ever witnessed an employee conflict, or been involved in one, knows how disruptive they can be to workplace productivity, collaboration, trust, and positivity.

While some might argue that workplace competition is healthy, there’s a difference between employees who can collaborate effectively while also being a bit competitive with one another, and employees who can barely collaborate without a battle of egos.

If you’re struggling with how to handle employee conflict, follow these steps to resolve it:

Understand the Conflict

While it’s tempting to draw our conclusions about why employees might be feeling adversarial, especially if rumors are circulating the workplace, the best course of action is to first speak to the employees individually.

Once you’ve heard both sides, make sure you’re not dealing with an Employment Equity Act issue, such as racial or sexual discrimination. Brush up on your company’s harassment prevention policies, and assess whether they’ve been applied to the situation.

Once you’ve ruled out any EEA issues, focus on finding out the underlying circumstances causing the conflict. Do the team members have clashing work styles? Are they dealing with a difficult client? Is there bullying or gossiping going on?

There are often a variety of factors at play, but by getting an initial read on the situation, and what’s causing it, you can start taking steps to resolve it.

Encourage Employees to Resolve Issues Themselves

As a manager and leader, empowering your employees whenever possible is key to helping them feel engaged and appreciated. Allowing team members to work things out on their own not only means your staff feels less that you’re ordering them to resolve their problems, but it also keeps you from looking like you are picking favorites.

If you’re finding that team members can’t work it out themselves, or if you have an employee who avoids confrontation, then you might need to mediate the situation.

In this case, make sure to  offer talking points only to guide the conversation, but make sure to draw the line at actually resolving the problem.

Write It Up

As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s important for both the business, HR, and the employee’s personnel files that all conflicts and issues are properly documented.

Include the who, what, when, where, and how, and the resolution that all parties have agreed to uphold moving forward.

Writing up employees who act inappropriately also sets the standards for your organization going forward, and sends a message to other team members that management takes employee conflict seriously.

How to Deal With Employee Conflict

If you’re not sure how to handle battling employees, consider using this approach:

  • Determine how emotionally charged and severe the conflict.
  • Talk to each employee individually first.
  • Ask if they would be comfortable meeting with the other employee 1-on-1 to discuss the conflict.
  • If they refuse, or are too nervous, ask each employee to meet in a group setting with you as the mediator.
  • Use your role as mediator to focus on resolving the conflict and encourage staff to use statements like “I feel…” when describing the situation.
  • Write it up and get all parties to sign a document stating that they’re committed to the resolution.

Remember: conflict resolution doesn’t always have to end in agreement; sometimes it’s merely to agree to disagree.

Consider times of employee conflict as your time to shine as a leader, and use the steps outlined above to resolve employee conflict quickly and respectfully.

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