Workplace conflict is inevitable. Strong and diverse personalities can collide and people working closely may irritate each other. For small business owners, internal rifts can cause additional stress, erode culture, increase staff turnover and hurt productivity.
Here are some strategies to help resolve disputes.
Act quickly and show leadership
Simply hoping that employee conflicts will go away is a recipe for disaster. Management needs to respond promptly to serious workplace disagreements and follow predetermined guidelines to seek a resolution between the combative parties.
This requires strong leadership. If you’re a boss or a senior leader, you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to such conflicts – it’s your job to fix things.
Listen to all points of view
The first course of action when significant conflicts emerge is for management or HR personnel to ensure they get all sides of the story. Speak independently to each person involved to assess the underlying reasons for the conflict.
Clearly document each side’s argument and resist the temptation to make premature judgements about who’s right and who’s wrong. Avoid inflammatory comments such as, “You have been the source of trouble in the past” or “You often overreact to situations”, as they can make one party feel as though you’re biased against them.
Consider using an independent mediator
In some circumstances, conflict may be best handled by an external mediator. This adds a sense of impartiality and fairness and may make any final rulings more acceptable for the people in dispute.
Finding a mediator who understands your sector and particular workplace quirks can be advantageous, as they understand the pressures and demands of the conflict resolution.
Stick to the facts
When dealing with a workplace issue it’s important to stay calm and rational while adopting a goal-oriented approach. Address the problems, not the personalities, and focus on facts that have been uncovered during the resolution process.
Agree on resolution options
After all the issues have been discussed, document a plan of action so there’s clarity about expectations for future behaviour. Encourage the parties to offer their own resolutions so they also have a voice. Make sure both parties understand the agreement and ensure complete transparency.
Following these steps should help smooth out any ugly incidents. Setting a clear vision about your workplace culture from the outset is the best way to ensure employee conflicts are kept to a minimum. Define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
Communicate the rules to employees and even potential recruits in the hiring phase so you reduce the risk of hiring the wrong employee. Being proactive is a far better option than having to pick up the pieces if a dispute does occur.
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