5 Effective Ways to Handle Employee Conflict

When you throw a variety of personalities together at work, there’s bound to be employee conflict. Here are five solutions to common employee discord.

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employee conflict

“Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.” Max Lucado
Employee happiness and amicability is important, but when you throw any variation of employee personalities together, there’s bound to be some sort of clash. Conflict isn’t necessarily bad, though. On the contrary, it’s rather healthy to have your ideas challenged, and it helps hash out and harmonize ideas.
However, there does exist an uglier side of workplace discord that involves discrimination, bullying, harassment, and other sorts of emotional abuse. It’s prudent, then, that supervisors and business owners equip themselves with the right social tools to disperse conflict and come away from the ordeal as a fortified team.
While it’s impossible to prepare for every potential conflict, the practices listed below can help avoid and resolve common workplace speed bumps.

1. Lead by Example

The best proactive measure you can take is to simply be the leader you would want to follow. Office culture is almost always set by whomever is sitting at the top, so be sure to nip employee conflict in the bud by establishing a healthy and functioning workplace. As a leader, you have to not only be prepared to deal with situations as they emerge, but also be sensitive to the problems that may arise.
For example, newly implemented positions or competing job duties may cause confusion and, ultimately, conflict in metamorphosing teams. In this case, clearly define responsibilities and managerial roles to curb disputes and ensure they are in sync.

2. Remain Introspective

Humans are creatures of emotion. If you haven’t already realized how combative people can become when they think their ideas are under attack, you’ll learn soon enough within a team setting. There will even be times when you cease to be the mediator and become the combatant.
However, it’s still just as important to take a step back and address the situation as objectively as possible. It’s easy to use one’s rank to justify oneself. In fact, most find it quite easy to rationalize their opinion and behavior over other’s. Separating yourself from your personal narrative can help you not overreact, see things from a factual point of view, and open the door for a healthy discussion and resolution.

3. Don’t Ignore Ignorance

As society continues to evolve, we open the door to more and more members of marginalized communities. These include – but are not limited to – individuals of different religions, cultures, ethnicities, disabilities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender identities, and sexualities. It’s your duty to ensure your business adapts accordingly, or else risk it falling apart.
You may not be able to change the external discrimination your employees face, but you can establish a safe and inclusive environment for them in the workplace. Some ways to do this are to:

  • establish all-encompassing workshops.
  • seek input from employees rather than prescribe solutions from the top.
  • allow for open communication.
  • take initiative (i.e. directly address issues; accommodate other cultural or religious practices, holidays, etc.)

Even if you can’t convince offending employees to be empathetic while outside of the office, you’re obligated to address discrimination and harassment as it arises within the workplace. Just refrain from the counterproductive “colorblind” etiquette. It’s possible – even important – to acknowledge diversity within your workplace, but the important thing is to be respectful of your employees and their privacy.
It’s worth noting that ignorance is not always hostile – prejudice is many times internalized and practiced unconsciously. This is not an excuse to condone such behavior, which should be firmly corrected, but it may serve as a reminder for you to reinforce diversity training.

4. Strive for Objectivity

The key to handling employee conflict is to objectively gather their stories, get at the root of the problem, and then resolve it. Chances are that if you’re noticing tension between employees, others within the office are, too. Before things progress further, you should gather the involved parties and sit them down for a private discussion.
People handle conflict differently. Depending on the situation, intra-office quarrels left to fester can result in a highly demoralized employee. In traditional work environments, employees spend the majority of their year in the same environment with the same people. If the environment is hostile, employees will lose their motivation. 

5. Welcome Discussion

While it’s important to know when to take the reins, you should also welcome those involved to discuss possible solutions. Rather than making it into a war with only one winning party, strive for a win-win peace treaty. This way, you can all achieve a solution that is as well-liked and enduring as possible. People are more likely to cooperate when they are being listened to and not being ordered around.
You want to be sure to preserve your relationships with everyone involved. If you don’t take opinions into account, someone is bound to feel slighted in favor of someone of greater authority or popularity.  

If all else fails…

Though it’s always best to solve conflicts internally, sometimes you have no choice but to seek outside help. It can get particularly dicey in smaller to medium-size businesses that may not have a designated HR professional – in which case it’s especially important to involve a third party. Unfortunately, there still exist certain situations, such as continued or extreme harassment/discrimination, that may require further legal action. In this case, you should consider consulting a qualified attorney who is familiar with state and federal laws regarding workplace conduct.

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