Many workplaces have a set of unique conflicts, which could be between managers and their team members and between team members that cannot get along with each other. There are many reasons for Conflicts Between Employees, but the root causes are almost always identical. The dispute usually arises due to differences in personalities, lifestyles, or opinions.
At times, however, you just don’t have the time or the luxury of analysing why some employees cannot work well together.
The problem is that the entire team and workplace are affected when there is a conflict between a few team members. The resulting tension can impact the workplace environment by making the office uncomfortable. This ends up impacting workplace effectiveness and productivity.
Competent managers usually use conflict where possible to create a sense of rivalry between the team members to add a healthier aspect to the conflict and create an outlet for the rivalry. This can result in improved performance, healthy rivalry, and better innovation and creativity.
Wherever this is possible, the organization and conflicting team members gain in terms of better performance and an incentive to do better at work. The tips below will help you turn workplace clashes into a focus towards doing better between clashing co-workers
1. Assess the nature of the conflict
It’s often easier to draw conclusions about why a conflict exists, especially if there are rumours in circulation. However, make sure to assess why there is a rivalry or discord between specific employees.
The most important thing to ensure is that there is no possible workplace harassment or discrimination element involved in the conflict. Be sure that if your workplace has harassment prevention policies and guidelines, nothing is being violated according to the policy. If such policies are not currently in place, make them a priority.
Once you’ve ruled out harassment issues, see what other underlying causes may trigger or worsen the conflict. For instance:
- Are there clashing work styles or ethics at play?
- Is the work naturally a high-stress environment?
- Is a new project or manager causing tensions
- Are the deadlines tight?
- Is the client creating difficulties between different departments?
- Are some employees spreading gossip or bullying coworkers?
There can be a variety of reasons behind rising hostility among your employees. Getting an initial assessment of what’s at the heart of the matter is essential to resolve the issue and avoiding future conflict successfully.
2. Encourage employees to work it out themselves
As a manager, the ideal solution is one in which your employees are as self-sufficient as possible. As a manager, you are not responsible for helping them get along. We are all adults.
Another element to remember is that reacting to every worker’s complaint may add to the drama and worsen the situation. Many employees see this as a sign of partialism and favouritism.
Again, there is a fine line that you will have to balance. This will range from encouraging team members to resolve their issues on their own to creating circumstances to facilitate conflict resolution. This will be especially needed if one party to the conflict tends to avoid confrontation.
Offer guidance or talking points to help both employees positively approach the other person. Don’t ever give the impression that you’ll fix the problem for them. You can facilitate a discussion, but that is ideally where your role should end.
It is always better to use your judgment when it comes to addressing more substantial employee conflicts. Consider the following steps:
- Determine if the situation is emotionally charged and the severity of the conflict.
- If the issue can escalate to a bigger problem, if appropriate, talk to each employee individually to let them know the situation is becoming problematic for others.
- Then, encourage open communication and problem resolution among the employees involved. Ask them if they feel comfortable handling it one-on-one with the other employee.
- Make it a point that all employees know that when people work together, disagreements can occasionally happen. But disrespect and escalation to a greater extent of conflict is another story
Specific baseline requirements should be specified, like people who don’t get along should still behave respectfully and try to listen to the other person’s side. Conflict resolution doesn’t necessarily have to end in agreement. At times, it is best to agree to disagree, but with mutual respect. When that happens, employees should accept that there is a difference of opinion or approach and come up with a solution together on how to work together in the future without impacting the workplace further.
As a manager, keep the focus on behaviour and issues rather than the people involved.
3. Stop the Conflict Quickly
Sometimes situations will not work out, and you’ll be forced to step in. If ignored, such disputes can polarize the entire workplace and eventually affect the reputation and performance of your department or business.
Get to the root of the conflict and stop the escalation before it starts. There should be a clear message that all employees, regardless of position, will be held accountable for their behaviour.
4. Listen to both sides
When you decide to get involved, ignore any gossip around the office, and don’t rely on what you hear.
Deal with the two individuals or sides of people directly involved in the conflict and worry about other staff members later. People involved in conflict want to feel listened to or acknowledged, so ask each person responsible to explain their perspective of the story.
Before deciding on meeting with the disagreeing parties, decide if you want to meet them together or separately. Try to evaluate the degree of hostility between them. Remember, you’re there to discuss facts, not emotions.
Such a situation can quickly become emotionally charged, so determine if you need to speak to both sides together or separately. Also, stress the facts of the matter and not the emotions involved.
While listening to their perspectives, ask for their opinions on how the situation should be resolved. This is a manager-controlled version of number 2 above.
As a neutral party, make sure not to take any sides, even if there is one clearly at fault. Doing will only fan the flames and can worsen matters. As a business leader, you must be objective and follow company guidelines.
For conflict resolution to be successful, particularly in high-stress workplaces where conflict often arises, your company should train supervisors and employees on how to handle high-stress and employee conflict in this area. Acknowledging those job descriptions that are systemically designed to conflict with one another in work execution is a simple way to avoid work-based conflicts.
Poorly trained staff and managers can worsen the situation, leading to low morale, disengaged employees and even increased turnover.
5. Determine the real issue
Emotions sometimes distort the actual reason for an employee conflict. When the issue escalates to a manager’s attention, the conflicting employees are already angry and defensive.
To get beyond the emotional aspect to the truth, encourage employees to articulate the issue calmly. Addressing emotions alone will be temporary. Get to the base of the matter to come up with a permanent solution that should ideally avoid future flare-ups.
6. Find a solution
Employees don’t need to be best friends; they just have to get their jobs done. Also, make sure that both sides know the difference between good and bad conflict. Help them learn the difference.
However, don’t ignore the need for organizational changes. At times, if needed, you can improve employee focus and the workplace dynamic by rearranging teams. It may be helpful to give the parties involved time to “cool off” before they are working together again.
The bottom line is the business performance; if the conflict has genuine roots, it will continue and seriously affect productivity and performance. Recognize when it’s time to re-evaluate your staffing structure.
7. Write it up
It is essential that you document all workplace conflicts. Recording such events will help employees monitor behaviour over time and notice repeat offenders that may negatively impact the office’s performance.
By handling and documenting incidents in detail, you can also protect your business should a discontented employee try to defame you or the business. It’s essential that you document all factual information from each employee-related incident. Be sure to include the counselling or written memorandum about the employees’ conduct in their HR file.
Include all the key details, as well as the resolution that all parties agreed on and committed to upholding.
8. Teach Staff how to communicate
For some troubled employees, explaining a situation is not sufficient. People involved in conflicts usually have communication issues already. If there is discord among your staff, it’s probably time to offer some essential communication and problem-solving training.
Sadia Zaheer holds a Masters in Business Administration from IBA, Karachi. After working in several financial institutions in Client Management, Corporate Lending, Islamic Banking and Product Management she jumped careers to pursue a career in writing.
She is a Finance, Business and HR Development writer with four years of experience. She reads a lot and takes care of her multiple cats to remain calm.