Conflict between your employees can quickly create a toxic atmosphere in your office, making productivity plummet.
Understanding how to help employees resolve their conflicts, and when you need to step in, will help keep your office harmonious and efficient.
Since you can’t send the involved parties away on a weekend retreat (though some businesses try this avenue) or fire them on the spot without some interruptions to your work flow, finding a resolution should always be your top goal.
The most important thing you can do to reduce the fallout from office conflict is to have a plan in place, well before conflict occurs.
Even among groups with mutual respect for one another, sooner or later there is likely to be a problem, and it's better to have an action plan in place than to scramble to try and control the damage.
You should include your employees, human resources personnel, and managers in this plan. Make it clear to everyone that there is a conflict resolution plan in place, and that you are there to help them resolve problems professionally.
Practice Conflict Resolution Skills
You'll get more comfortable and skilled at dealing with office conflict if you practice what you'll say and how you'll handle the situation.
Using role-playing and other techniques, give your managers a chance to practice their skills in mock conflicts.
This technique will more than pay off when a real conflict arises, as you and your managers will be more confident in dealing with it.
Give Both Sides a Voice
Perhaps the most important step in resolving a conflict between employees is to let each side tell their story -- and make sure they feel like they're being heard.
You should also have a meeting with just the parties involved and one HR rep or manager to act as a mediator. If each party has an HR rep, the process can get clogged with too many voices and too much red tape.
Instead of dictating a solution to the problem, encourage the employees involved in the conflict to talk it out and come up with a resolution on their own. This gives the workers a sense of empowerment, helps them learn how to handle problems between themselves, and may help reduce conflict down the road.
After the Resolution
Once the conflict is resolved to the satisfaction of both parties (or, a decision has been made by the manager in a case where the employees cannot agree), make it clear that details of the meeting will be kept confidential.
Make it clear to both sides that the decision made in the resolution meeting is final.
The HR rep or manager in charge of the conflict should make sure both parties understand that they need to accept the outcome of the meeting and move on -- and that no retaliation will be tolerated.
Office conflict can be a difficult problem to address, especially in small businesses that haven't had to deal with it before.
By keeping a cool head and making both sides feel they're being heard, you can keep things civil and restore peace to the office.
As a business owner or manager of others, how do you handle conflict in your office?
About the Author
Angie Mansfield is a freelance writer covering a range of topics for both consumers and small business owners, such as business management, social media, and Bluegreen Resorts.