Since every dispute and disagreement is different, there is no foolproof manual for managers to follow when a conflict arises. When dealing with employee disputes, many factors should be taken into consideration, including your company’s culture and regulations, the employees’ unique or unknown personal circumstances, and conflicting personalities. Once a conflict is brought to the attention of manager or supervisor, they must be equipped with the right skills to manage and resolve the dispute. Poorly trained managers may make the conflict worse, which can lead to disengaged employees, increased employee turnover, and low morale. Provided below are some practicable tips to help managers forage through employee conflicts to find resolutions and to prevent minor disagreements from snowballing into more serious issues.
Before managers can step in to resolve an employee dispute, they must first assess the situation. What is the degree of hostility between the disagreeing parties? Could you meet with the disagreeing parties together or should you meet with each person separately? This first step can save a lot of time. If the parties show great animosity towards one another, having a meeting with both will not likely be a success and could lead to an even larger disaster.
Importantly, managers should also ignore any gossip they might hear around the office and must focus on the facts. The only way to get the facts is by speaking with the conflicting employees and hearing each side of the argument. When a manager determines that speaking to the employees together is a good idea, the manager should provide each party with uninterrupted time to tell their fact-based side of the story. Making sure each party is not interrupted is important, since each party will want to feel listened to and acknowledged. It is likely that letting each party speak while the other parties listen can lead to the realization that there was simply a miscommunication and a resolution can be reached quickly. Objectivity is required during this meeting; managers must not take sides since this will only make matters worse.
During this conversation the employees should state their desired outcomes from the dispute. This should not simply be a statement “to resolve the conflict.” The employees should state what each believes the resolution should entail and how a working solution can be reached.
Next, have each employee highlight and categorize the problems. The employees should state the major impediments that each party must overcome in order to achieve the desired resolution. They might discover that some obstacles, such as personality traits or personal beliefs, cannot be overcome, and that trying to control them will not yield a different outcome. Instead, if the employees can understand the issues objectively, they may be able to focus on the problems that are within their control in order to tactically solve the problem.
Managers should then try to find some common ground between the employees to lead to a solution. Often, there is some part of the conflict that both parties can both agree upon and that can become the foundation for managers to bridge the gap between the employees. Managers need to understand that employees do not need to be best friends; they just need to get the job done. Encouraging compromise based on a common ground between the employees may be helpful. Instruct the employees to develop possible alternatives to the solution to help lead to a compromise. In order to arrive at the best possible solution, the employees should brainstorm as many alternative solutions as possible. This will allow the conflicting employees to eliminate the least suitable options, leading them to discover the best compromise to resolve the conflict. It may take a while to reach a compromise each party is agreeable to since each party must be willing to give in a little. However, once a compromise is reached, everyone will feel like they at least won a little bit.
Once a compromise has been reached, have the employees define the specific steps each must take to implement the agreed upon solution. This is the most important step for employees to take when resolving disputes because it defines each party’s part in the execution of the solution. This also lets all employees involved know what the others must do to dissolve the conflict and holds everyone accountable to do their part in resolving the issue.
Lastly, managers should document the incident in writing. It is important to create a record of the dispute even if the employees do not want the incident documented. This will help managers monitor employee behavior over time and will help to identify repeat offending employees. This will also provide management with a description of the agreed upon resolution and will enable management to see if each employee followed through with the solution. Should an employee fail to adhere to the agreed upon solution, management can intervene before another conflict escalates.