Conflict in the workplace is one of the more dreaded components of a manager’s life. Wouldn’t it be simpler if everyone could just get along?
Unfortunately, in the world we live in, the reality is that workplace conflict is close to inevitable. But we can take steps to minimize it, and it certainly helps to have some tactics to deal with it when it occurs.
Here are some tips for minimizing conflict in the workplace:
- Never assume situations will resolve themselves. When an employee conflict is brought to your attention, it’s usually past the point of working itself out. Even in cases where there’s no need for direct managerial intervention, make a point to follow up. Small problems can quickly become big problems if they’re not handled well.
- Train managers in conflict resolution techniques so they have the necessary tools when these situations arise.
- Remember to assess employee conflicts from the perspective of each individual involved. While this may sound obvious, it’s easy to just jump into problem-solving mode without considering what each employee needs in the situation. Understanding each employee’s needs is crucial to not only resolving the situation but also avoiding the problem in the future.
- Have a clear process for investigating complaints and be as consistent as possible in following that process.
- Communicate clearly and often. Communication problems are often the source of conflicts, so it’s important to be clear in communications to ensure that managers are not adding to the problem. Communication to employees needs to be timely as well as clear—this helps keep everyone on the same page and prevent simple misunderstandings.
- Ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities, including (and especially) when there are overlaps in responsibilities between individuals. This is especially true for teams—ensure each participant understands his or her role.
- Set clear expectations as to what behavior is not tolerated in the workplace, and enforce those expectations.
- Consider employee personalities whenever possible when creating work teams. In an ideal world, every employee would get along with every other employee. In the real world, some conflicts can be avoided by knowing who works best together and taking advantage of that knowledge.
- Train employees on teamwork skills. Simple techniques to ensure teams work together smoothly can go a long way to preventing conflict in the first place.
- Don’t let personal bias get in the way of the real conflict resolution. Whether we admit it or not, it’s human nature to have preferences for certain individuals. Mangers may unknowingly prefer certain employees—and they may give those employees preferential treatment when conflicts come up. This can make the problem worse. Coach managers on how to objectively assess problems before making decisions.
- Get employee opinions on how to best resolve the situation. Rather than trying to come up with a solution on your own, first ask the employees what they would consider to be a good resolution. You may get conflicting answers, of course, but this will be a way to see what each person wants out of the situation. It could paint a clearer picture of how to resolve it.
- Consider using third-party mediators when practical and appropriate—especially for employee conflicts that have escalated.
- During the conflict resolution process, be sure to keep employees updated on the steps you’re taking. Make sure they don’t feel ignored if the process is going to take some time.
Do you have any tips to add to the list? What is your conflict resolution process?
This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.