As a business owner or manager, all sorts of responsibilities fall on your shoulders. Some are right up your alley, while others call on skills you haven’t had a whole lot of opportunity to hone. For many leaders, resolving workplace conflicts between employees falls into the latter category.
When members of your staff are feuding or having other issues, it creates a negative and uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone (often including customers or clients), reduces productivity, hurts company morale, may lead to the loss of valuable people, can leave you at risk of litigation, and just generally stinks. And if the problems aren’t resolved successfully—which means to all parties’ satisfaction—they usually just fester and resurface, often worse the next time around.
That’s why it’s crucial that you help settle things in a way that makes all individuals involved feel like they’ve been heard and treated fairly. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t take sides in the dispute, but it does mean you must proceed in an unbiased, equitable way. Sure, it’s easier said than done sometimes, but it’s one of those challenges of strong business leadership you should strive to meet.
How to Restore the Peace Amid Workplace Conflict
- Act quickly when a problem comes to your attention. Generally, conflicts escalate without intervention. The longer they go on and the worse they get, the more damage they do and the harder it is to undo. Minimize the effects of workplace conflict by dealing with it promptly.
- Give the employees encouragement and opportunity to work things out themselves. You’re their boss, not their parent, and there’s an expectation that adult professionals can behave as such. Sometimes, all it takes is for you to draw attention to the situation and request that it be resolved. This prevents you from inadvertently feeding the drama or being seen as taking sides.
- Talk to each person involved separately and privately. You need to hear all sides of the story. And it’s important that everyone knows they had the chance to present their side without any interruption, interference, or pressure.
- Ask each person involved what they want to see as a resolution. This too helps ensure that everyone feels like they’ve been heard. It also helps you get to the root cause of the issues, as well as the most practical solution. It’s rare that the outcome looks exactly like what everyone wants it to look like, but it makes it possible for you to offer meaningful compromises.
- Decide how you want to solve the problem. Try to give each side something they want. Prepare an explanation for why you reached your decision.
- Bring the parties together in a private meeting. Remind everyone that the discussion must remain polite and professional. Summarize the conflict as you’ve come to understand it. Then, offer your solution and give the explanation for how you arrived at it.
- Ask each person for feedback on your summary and solution. Give them the opportunity to agree, object, ask questions, and have further discussion. The parties should take turns speaking, and don’t let them interrupt each other.
- Continue the conversation as needed. Again, the goal is for all parties involved to know that they were given a fair chance to air their grievances, that they were taken seriously, and that a genuine attempt was made to address them satisfactorily. If your original summary and solution don’t get you there, keep working toward a successful resolution.
- Have the employees expressly agree to the solution. They should state out loud that they believe the problem has been addressed and that an acceptable solution has been reached. Reiterate the next steps and have each person agree to them.
- Ask the employees to shake hands and apologize to each other. Bring the meeting to an amicable, professional close. Everyone will feel better and be more willing to proceed with a positive attitude.