staff conflict resolution strategies

About the author : Valerie Dansereau

It’s great when the workplace is peaceful and free of conflict. It’s unrealistic to think conflict won’t happen sooner or later at work, since work is a place that often involves challenges and stress, and it’s also a place where a blend of people that come from widely different backgrounds are mixed together.

Conflict isn’t always a bad thing since it means people are openly expressing what’s on their minds which can sometimes lead to innovative ideas. When conflict isn’t productive and is creating a tense work environment, it’s time to look for the most effective staff conflict resolution strategies.

Don’t Try to Ignore It

Many conflicts blow over fairly quickly since coworkers can often work through minor problems. When disputes intensify to the point where others are being affected, ignoring the problem is no longer an option. Trying to ignore a conflict that’s growing in intensity contributes to making it worse. As soon as you recognize that there’s a problem that’s worsening, it’s time to address it.

Clarify the Cause of the Conflict

Meet with the staff members who are in conflict in a private location where you won’t be interrupted. Give each of them a chance to explain their side of what the issue is without interruption or emotional outbursts. An important skill to use during this discussion is active listening.

Take notes and give signals that show you’re paying attention such as nodding where appropriate or asking questions if anything is unclear. Once they’ve said their piece, repeat back to them what you’ve heard. Pay attention to nonverbal signals such as body language or facial expressions that don’t agree with the words that are being said. To lighten a tense mood, use humor where appropriate.

Brainstorm Solutions

After the cause of the conflict has been made clearer, brainstorm solutions. Ask each of the staff members in conflict what they see as a fair resolution. Look for common ground and explain to them that neither of them may be able to get all of what they want, and that there may need to be compromises.

Sometimes the clarity gained by allowing each to say their version may reveal that the cause of the conflict was a simple misunderstanding. If the problem is more complex than that, you may have to act as mediator to help identify a solution that should work for all concerned. After this discussion, it should be clear to all what the next steps need to be.

Following Up

Don’t assume that the problem is solved once and for all. Keep monitoring what’s going on and schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss if further changes need to be made. If the solution didn’t work at all, other possible solutions need to be identified. If there’s still lingering tension or hostility, or if one or both of the staff members is uncooperative, you may need to involve your HR department.

Getting Outside Help

In some conflicts, staff members may feel that an outside third party is needed to effectively work through a conflict. By relying on an outside company that’s skilled in conflict resolution, there won’t be any accusations of managers taking sides or already having their minds made up. When professional mediators are involved, there may be a better chance of attaining a resolution of an internal conflict that’s completely unbiased. It’s a good idea to get outside help if you’re having an emotional reaction to the conflict, having a hard time remaining impartial or if the staff conflict resolution strategies you’re using don’t seem to be working.

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About the author : Valerie Dansereau