Conflict is a part of life, and in the workplace it creates healthy competition, innovation, and enhanced creativity, but conflict that brings disrespect negatively affects everybody. Whether it’s differences in personalities, opinions, or another factor, there will be times when employees don’t mesh, and if it goes unaddressed, it can cause tension that not only makes the office environment uncomfortable–it can affect your business’s productivity.
Conflict resolution is not easy, and it’s important for supervisors and managers to be trained accordingly so they don’t make the situation worse or avoid it altogether. Here are seven steps to skillfully turn conflict into cohesion between disagreeing employees.
1. EEO Compliance
First and foremost, make sure you’re not dealing with an equal employment opportunity (EEO) issue, such as workplace harassment or discrimination. Every owner and manager should be familiar with the company harassment prevention policies and the defined process for filing a complaint. Remember, with harassment, it’s not the intent of the behavior but how it is perceived. Once you’ve ruled out that no EEO laws are violated, then you can move on to determine what other underlying circumstances might be causing the conflict.
2. Remain Neutral
Often during the conflict, employees are allowing their emotions to override their professionalism, and having a person intervene with a neutral stance can help them move past their feelings and on to solving the real problem. Whatever you might think of the situation, set your own biases and opinions aside. Maintain an even temper, and truly listen to both employees’ sides as objectively as possible. If your employees suspect that you’re favoring one over the other, you’ll hit a dead-end in your negotiation–or you risk intensifying the argument.
3. Listen to Both Sides
When conflict erupts it is because of pent-up frustrations and emotions. Allowing each person the time and space to tell their side of the story–without being interrupted–will enable them to release some of the frustration they are feeling. First, determine if it is best to speak to the employees together or individually and then ask them to tell you their point of view. While listening, remain quiet and refrain from making any gestures that may affirm their opinion. Simply listen. Once they are finished, ask them to repeat the story again, and this time you can ask clarifying questions and make comments. You will see that the employee is calmer and more willing to cooperate once they feel like they have been heard.
4. Find Common Ground
Bring both employees into a joint meeting, and help them try to find common ground. When you’re mediating an argument between employees, it’s crucial that you establish a safe and open environment. Find the source of the problem and ask each of them to offer ideas on how the situation could be resolved and how both of them can move forward.
Remind the employees that there is a difference between good and bad conflict and that they are not required to like each other, but they do need to keep the work environment productive and get the job done. If the employees really can’t find common ground, then consider making organizational changes.
5. Make a Game Plan
When the employees are guided to find a solution and make a game plan, they are more likely to be successful then if you solve the problem for them. Begin the process of making a game plan by reminding the employees to focus more on their jobs than their grievances with each other and have them set a timeline by which you will see improvement in their behaviors. Also, discuss and establish the consequences if they don’t follow that plan and a time for them to check in with you with their progress. Make sure the final decision aligns with company policy. No employee should be above workplace rules and letting employees slide will only weaken your authority.
6. Document It
It’s essential that you document all workplace incidents, and it doesn’t always have to be a reprimand. Write in your employee handbook that all “coaching moments” will be documented and a game plan created to help the employee develop and succeed. Recording these events will help you monitor behavior over time and bring awareness to your employees. This is also way to protect your business should a disgruntled employee have an issue in the future. Be sure to include the coaching or written game plan with both employees’ signatures in their personnel file.
7. Follow Up
After identifying a problem, addressing it with employees, and finding a solution, you need to follow up and make sure the problem is truly solved. This sometimes is the most challenging part, so it is important to schedule future check-ins before the meeting is over. Encourage the employees to follow up with you the first time. This will make them accountable for the game plan they cocreated and keep the solutions fresh in their mind. Set the date on your calendar and if you don’t hear from them, then reach out to them.
In conclusion: It doesn’t matter if employees aren’t agreeing–they should still treat each other with respect and make an effort to listen to the other person’s side. Conflict resolution doesn’t always end in agreement and may result in employees agreeing to disagree, respectfully. Your company culture is based on how everyone interacts with one another and how managers and executives handle situations. Leading by example is the most impactful way to reinforce and uphold your company’s values, policies, and guidelines. When conflict arises in the workplace address it immediately before it affects the rest of the employee team. By speaking to your employees honestly and respectfully, you create an environment that fosters integrity, community and communication.