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Employee conflict

Tips for Avoiding and Addressing Employee Conflict

By Sep Barkhodaee
Published on April 28, 2014

At the core of any company’s success is a certain camaraderie and collaboration among team members. However, regardless of how small or large a business, expecting all workers to get along all the time is unrealistic. There will be times when, for whatever reason, certain staff members disagree, whether it’s fueled by jealousy or simply a difference in opinion. These arguments can not only threaten employee retention, but can also lower overall morale. Fortunately, there are ways that management can diffuse these situations, or better yet – prevent them altogether.

Here are some tips to ensuring minimal issues in the work environment.


Devise and develop a policy
If employees are well aware of the company policy on fighting, they are less likely to engage in petty altercations. Jeanne Brett, the Director of the Kellogg School’s Dispute Resolution Research Center, and co-author of “Getting Disputes Resolved,” told the Harvard Business Review that many team leaders resort to handling disagreements as they arise, but she stressed that this is not an effective strategy. Brett recommended having specific conflict management procedures for any problems that arise, which will not only ensure that all fights are dealt with consistently but also that they’re resolved more efficiently. Make sure that these policies and procedures are communicated to all staff members in the employee handbook. Additionally, you should post this information somewhere in the office and online so that it’s highly accessible.


Educate everyone
Conflict resolution is an essential skill for employees in any company. You can use online training to get all team members, up to speed on how to address a disagreement. Staff should be informed about how to avoid any major conflicts as well as when to seek out help from their superiors. Meanwhile, team leaders and managers must be coached on when and how to intervene in these situations. If you create online courses about conflict resolution, don’t forget that you can track employees’ progress through quizzes and tests within the learning management system to ensure that they’re absorbing the information.


Be alert and address the scenario
It’s imperative to keep your ears open for any issues, or they could escalate and eventually blow up. If you hear murmuring about a possible problem from your colleagues, don’t just assume that it will naturally work itself out. Make sure management is aware of the potential conflict so that the situation can be handled. Timing is definitely of the essence in terms of addressing disagreements. Brett told the Harvard Business Review that the sooner you can intervene, the less resentment and overall negative feelings will come out of the conflict.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the best way to resolve a conflict is to talk to each individual employee separately before meeting as a group so that you can get each side of the story and allow emotions, which may be running high, to even out. After allowing them to voice their complaints, ask each to propose possible ways to work through their differences. Then strategize a detailed plan for both of them to follow. The source emphasized that it’s crucial to let staff members know that hostility will not be tolerated going forward, and that disciplinary action may need to be taken if they cannot overcome their issues. Brett explained that it’s best not to focus the discussion too much around the disagreement, and instead, frame the exchange around establishing guidelines for appropriate employee engagement. Be sure to check in with each employee within a reasonable amount of time after your meeting to ensure that conditions have improved.

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