Handling Workplace Conflict

By Andrea Hayden

4 min read

Most employers strive to foster a workplace that encourages teamwork and efficiency. When you promote an environment of collaboration, leadership and discussion, you can’t always avoid conflict within your organization. Whether the issue is personal or professional, workplace conflict will occasionally arise in even the best of companies.

While conflict isn’t unavoidable, it can almost always be resolved and even leveraged for learning about better communication. Managed correctly, conflict can actually become a positive experience for all parties involved.

Workplace Policies and Prevention

One of the best ways to handle workplace conflict is to prevent and reduce conflict with workplace policies. These policies should outline best behavior practices and discipline procedures for when these policies are not followed. Our guide to workplace policies every employer should know explores how various policies (such as a dress code, harassment policy, and drug and alcohol policies) can require a certain level of respect and professionalism within the workplace, which in turn can serve as prevention for common disputes.

Have an open-door policy with everyone at your company, and ask for honest feedback regularly. Develop relationships with all of your employees so you can find out about conflicts early, clarify what is going on and help ensure the issues don’t fester.

Team-building activities and outings can also help develop relationships between employees. Include everyone and have them interact with different levels of management and other teams to promote healthy relationships within the entire company. Encouraging the development of mutual understanding of others can go a long way to prevent conflicts in the workplace.

Handling and Resolving Conflict

Not all conflicts can be avoided through policies, and occasionally, conflict management and resolution will be needed. Always remember to be productive and positive when dealing with issues.

The most important step in conflict resolution is completely understanding the issue and attempting to resolve it early. If issues build, they can create a negative and unproductive work environment. Always get the facts as completely and objectively as possible so you can understand the situation and be unbiased. Don’t let your emotions or attitudes toward employees get in the way of understanding the source of the conflict.

When finding the source of the conflict and the details of the situation, you should also consider who is involved. Conflicts may be handled differently if the issue is between only employees, between only managers or between a manger and their junior(s). Each level within the company will have different types of conflicts and concerns. For example, staff members may be upset about picking up the slack for other employees, while upper-level management may be concerned about higher-level decisions regarding team goals. Lower-level employees may also have difficulty communicating issues with upper-level superiors, so be sure to give employees somebody they can speak to outside of their direct manager, whether it’s a COO, an HR person or even the CEO.

Regardless of who is involved, make sure both parties are aware of their common goals and how this conflict damages them.

Consider these methods to further resolve the issue and to handle conflict regardless of who is involved and their level in the organization:

  • Refocus. Sometimes all that is needed to minimize conflict is simply a better definition of roles. Once people have a clear understanding of goals and common interests, they can clearly visualize their goals versus their own personal agendas and expectations. Everyone will be responsible for their part and can expect others to carry their own responsibility in an effort to work together.
  • Brainstorm. Work together with the parties involved to develop a compromise or other resolution. Encourage conversation between the parties, and even ask them to come up with solutions; oftentimes people have the tools to resolve their own conflicts and just need a little coaxing and a safe space to share their ideas. This builds relationships by promoting teamwork.
  • Mediation. Leverage business mediation tactics. Consider training a Human Resources employee, hiring a professionally trained corporate mediator or having another unbiased member of management (such as you) lead the discussion. The third party should listen thoroughly to each position, suggest amicable solutions and keep conversation moving and professional. Encourage the conflicting parties to explain how they feel and to explore the root of their anger rather than simply blaming the other party.
  • Opportunity for Development. Take advantage of the conflict to encourage leadership among your team. Find workshops that address specific issues that are plaguing your team, or host your own with a guest speaker and team-building exercises. This action will encourage positive thinking and moving forward from issues. You can help your business grow through these outings or workshops, teaching your employees the value of mutual respect and understanding.

Always be sure the issue is completely resolved for both parties before moving on. If not, issues will only snowball despite your attempts at resolution. Also remember to document everything, including accounts of the dispute and attempts that were made to resolve it. Keep these records for performance evaluations to discuss and review. Also, maintain the documentation necessary for proving that issues have occurred to alleviate any termination disputes.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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