managing conflict between employees

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.

In any workplace, the people that interact with each other all day every day have different personalities, opinions and backgrounds and that means it’s highly unlikely that conflict and disagreements will never come up. Not all conflict is bad. Constructive conflict can stimulate discussions and innovative ideas, and many conflicts work themselves out without you having to figure out what to do when managing conflict between employees.

Unfortunately, some conflicts aren’t constructive. There may be drama, and tension and as time passes, it’s clear that disagreements are getting more heated rather than getting better. When that happens, it’s clear that something has to be done. Managing conflict between employees can present a variety of challenges. When you manage conflict the right way, it can lead to a healthier and more productive work environment. But approaching things the wrong way can quickly make a bad situation worse. Consider things that you should avoid doing when managing conflict between employees.

Mistake # 1: Ignoring an Escalating Problem

One of the most common mistakes people make when there’s an escalating workplace problem is to try to ignore it or avoid it. It’s natural to hope things will work themselves out without intervention, but when things are clearly intensifying, ignoring the problem isn’t the right thing to do. Unresolved disputes that linger on can make the workplace a tense and unpleasant place to be, which may result in other staff members feeling dissatisfied with the work environment. Next thing you know, they’re finding reasons not to show up at work or some may begin seeking employment elsewhere.

When you’re in a leadership role, others look to you for a resolution to any issue that’s disrupting a peaceful work environment. Don’t ignore a problem that’s impacting peace or productivity. Address the issue sooner rather than later.

Instead of ignoring the problem, schedule a closed-door meeting to find out exactly what’s going on without other staff members in the area overhearing what’s being said. When you address problems promptly, you have a better chance of resolving them before things continue to unravel and affect others on the team, and you may prevent things from reaching a point of no return.

Mistake # 2: Focusing on Personalities Rather Than the Problem

Different people have different personalities, and it’s a common mistake to focus on the personalities rather than the problem. At any workplace, there may be many different personality types as well as age differences, cultural differences, and socioeconomic differences. These varied life experiences can lead to very different perspectives and unique approaches to disagreements.

When managing conflict between employees, you may run across an individual with a difficult personality who enjoys conflict and purposely avoids trying to collaborate with colleagues who are trying to find a solution. While it’s true that some people are easier to get along with than others, when managing conflict between employees, don’t let yourself be distracted by personalities, especially those that are difficult or much different than your own.

People have different communication styles. Some may exhibit more aggression or out-of-control emotions than others. Some personalities and communication styles may be off-putting, but their personalities don’t tell the whole story. Resolving conflict between employees requires a level head, so it’s important to stay focused on the problem, not the personality. Treat employees with respect and let them know they’re expected to treat each other with respect even when they disagree. Insults and character attacks should never be allowed.

Mistake # 3: Becoming Emotionally Reactive

Ongoing conflict can create an atmosphere of tension and unhappiness. Negative vibes and attitudes can spread like wildfire until it’s affecting everyone on the team including you. The last thing you want to do when managing conflict between employees is to get caught up in the emotional drama and lose control of your own emotions.

If you become emotionally reactive, you may blurt out things that may be considered unprofessional. The employee involved is likely to lose respect for you, and other employees who witness an emotional outburst may do the same.

There may be times when an employee is being blatantly unreasonable, but you have to remain impartial and keep your cool at all times. It’s imperative to avoid exhibiting rage or any other out-of-control emotion. Remain calm and neutral when you’re managing conflict between employees. Be empathetic about the intense emotions your employees are experiencing but don’t allow yourself to show any signs of blaming one person for the problem or taking sides.

Mistake # 4: Not Listening or Paying Attention

It’s impossible to solve a problem if you don’t thoroughly understand what the problem is. The key to resolving conflict is having a clear picture of what caused the conflict and why your employees are having such a hard time resolving it. To do this, you have to spend some time listening closely to what each person has to say. Don’t try to rush through discussions and don’t be dismissive about things that employees want to express.

It’s a common problem for leaders to not be listening as closely as they think they are. To be an effective leader, continually work on improving your listening skills. Practice active listening to make sure you’re absorbing the most important details. Be completely focused on what’s being said. Take notes, ask questions, and repeat back to others what you believe you’ve heard them say. Give them a chance to correct you if you’ve misunderstood.

It’s important to listen to both sides of any conflict. Don’t interrupt people who are trying to express their concerns, and don’t jump to conclusions or assume you know what they’re planning to say. The words people are saying don’t tell the whole story. Pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as refusing to make eye contact, rolling the eyes, tapping the foot, or having a facial expression that doesn’t agree with what they’re saying.

When employees are telling you what happened and what they think is the core problem, don’t take phone calls or allow interruptions in the middle of the discussion. Employees that are feeling the frustrated need to know they’re being heard. When people are allowed to vent and they know they’re being listened to, it sometimes helps to diffuse conflict.

Mistake # 5: Listening to Rumors

The longer a conflict has been going on, the more likely other employees may be getting in the middle of it. This may result in people choosing sides, forming cliques, or starting additional conflicts. When more people get involved, it can trigger rumors. Other employees may have an opinion about the situation and may try to talk others into seeing things the same way they do. Some may try to talk to you about their version of what’s happened, which may be distorted. You may also find that those in conflict try to talk to you individually about the other.

When managing conflict between employees, it’s important to avoid listening too closely to rumors or gossip. To find a solution to the problem, you need to find out key details about what triggered the conflict and what’s making it hard to solve it. These details should come from those that are directly involved. Take what outsiders have to say about it with a grain of salt.

Mistake # 6: Assuming the Problem is Solved After a Single Meeting

After setting up a private meeting to discuss what’s going on, you and the team members in conflict should brainstorm possible solutions. Ask each of them what they want and look for common ground. Compromise is essential since there’s a good chance no one is going to get all of what they want. Come up with the next steps to take toward restoring a peaceful work environment.

Don’t assume the problem is solved after a single meeting. Plan to set up a follow-up meeting to find out how well the solution is working. Continue to be supportive and suggest further steps that can be taken. The solution you came up with may need to be tweaked, or a completely different approach may be needed.

You may find that what was discussed at the prior meeting didn’t cover the entire problem and that there are more underlying issues that need to be worked out. Encourage those in conflict to talk about what further changes may be needed.

Mistake # 7: Not Asking for Help

When you’re working on managing conflict between employees, there may come a point when it’s clear your efforts at finding a solution that works for everyone aren’t working. You may find that one or both of these employees isn’t doing what they agreed to do. When there’s an obvious lack of cooperation or efforts to get along, you may need to get others involved.

If that happens, don’t continue to bang your head against the wall. Reach out to your HR department for additional suggestions. If one employee is refusing to cooperate, there may need to be disciplinary action. The bigger the problem, the less you should be trying to deal with it alone.

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Sometimes listening to different suggestions from a third party can lead to a new perspective. Choosing not to ask for help when the things you’ve tried aren’t working is just another way of ignoring the problem.

When you’re leading a team, it’s inevitable that you may make mistakes from time to time. There are no perfect leaders. Work on learning from each challenging situation. When things are peaceful, seek out opportunities to learn better management and communication skills.

Reach out to Peaceful Leaders Academy to find out about available training in peaceful leadership and managing conflict between employees.

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.