In any workplace, tension is bound to happen. Work can be stressful for the best of us, and personalities can clash over decisions both major and minor. Even if you carefully hire employees based on cultural fit and temperament, you shouldn’t be surprised when conflicts ultimately arise.
What matters is how you handle the conflict. As a leader or manager, part of your job is helping to keep professional relationships intact and the team cohesive as a unit; trying to stop all conflicts from happening is impossible and unhealthy, but facilitating an amiable and productive resolution can actually make your team stronger.
Tips for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
Easier said than done? Not necessarily. Follow these tips and best practices for healthier conflict resolution in your office.
Get involved early. The sooner a neutral third party gets involved, the more likely it is that the issue can be resolved before permanent damage is done to workplace relationships. The key here is to make it clear to both parties that you’re not taking sides—just trying to help everyone arrive at a fair, healthy resolution.
Provide ground rules. When employees are engaged in a conflict, lay out some principles to keep things from turning ugly—rules like no name-calling, no accusations, and no finger-pointing. Encourage I statements—“I feel frustrated by this,” etc.—instead of the most judgmental you statements.
Be discreet. It’s key to resolve the conflict in a private, confidential location—somewhere other team members won’t be listening in. A private office or conference room might work. Related: Make sure the conflict doesn’t spill over into social media, and avoid impersonal communications, like email or text. Always resolve with a face-to-face meeting.
Ask both sides to describe their version of events. Have your team members offer descriptions of the incident in question; what you may find is that there has simply been a miscommunication, or a perception that comes as a genuine surprise to one team member and leads to a swifter resolution.
Say no to criticism. Discourage your team members from hammering each other with criticism; keep the focus on the future, on problem-solving… on what to do now. Make an agreement on how to move forward, ideally one that will satisfy both employees.
It’s simple in theory, but admittedly more difficult in execution—yet honing your conflict resolution skills is a great investment in the unity of your team.