How to Manage Conflict Among Employees?

When people work together, conflict is inevitable. Employee dispute is not always bad thing if the leader can handle it well before it escalates to big war in the whole team or organization.

According to Zupek’s report, HR managers spend 25–60% of their time working through employee conflicts. There are different ways to resolve conflict among employees (usually between 2 people) working together in a team. No matter what mediators do, the ultimate goals are to maintain productive relationships and a comfortable work environment.

Consequences of employee conflict

Conflict between employees is common and unavoidable. It can be good or bad depending on the how well a leader resolve the conflict at workplace. If you can’t take control before it grows, dramatic negative effects can happen:

- Decreased productivity/ performance

- Decreased employee engagement

- Increased turnover

- Increased work stress

- Decreased trust in leadership and organization

- Divided workforce

What actions should leaders take when employee conflict appears?

1. Keep the employees calm down and let them tell their story

People are not smart enough when losing their temper, thus the mediator need to make them calm down before taking any further actions.

You can choose to have a meeting of both sides at the same time or do it individually. There remain different opinions in this issue, but the key here is let them say the most honest story to see the panorama picture of the dispute. Remember to assess the degree of conflict to avoid turning a meeting into a war when taking with 2 individuals or 2 groups at the same time.

Active listening will help both individuals have the feeling of being understood and respected.

2. Identify the root causes

By listening to both sides and gossip around, you will have the big picture of the conflict among employees. The dispute between two parties at workplace doesn’t necessarily have a job-related impediment. Sometimes it stems from interpersonal issues. Focus on the behaviors, not the personalities when asking question about what happened.

In case of group argument, the influence of negative emotions might be the real cause of employee dispute. Have you ever heard of crowd psychology?

When you know the source, you can figure out the most suitable outcome for the issue.

3. Look for a resolution, not a judgment

As a leader, you should never take sides even though you are closer to one side than another. It’s hard to stay objective but you have to be fair if you want to resolve the conflict successfully.

There’s no room for blaming on anyone as it makes no sense. Moreover, this action can burn the last bridge in the way to find peace again. Encouraging your employees to accept the differences in personalities, habits, personal values among people instead of trying to prove “I’m a winner and the other is just a loser”. By giving the missing sight of the situation, a lot of misunderstandings can be overcome easily.

If the same conflict arises again, it’s time for you to reevaluate these employees. Job rotation or firing decisions could be made if needed to prevent bigger impact on other employees in the team, department and organization.

Preventive measures

1. Enhance communication among employees

Communication plays a crucial role in preventing future conflict at workplace. A friendly environment will create favorable conditions for employees to understand each other, exchange ideas and give feedback. For introvert employees, you may want to provide communication skills training or teambuilding activities to encourage them to talk more.

Remember to find the ways to deal with difficult employees who can cause several unexpected disputes in your organization.

2. Develop formal process and procedures of resolving employee conflict

Of course you can’t cover all types of employee conflict in a document, but you will have the base of common cases to follow. An official process will help your employees know exactly how to find help when argument happens. By keeping an eye on your employees, you can see the conflict before it become out of control.

3. Lead by example

A happy corporate culture is the key here. Employees often look at leaders at all level of organizational hierarchy to copy their behaviors at workplace. Put it more simply, from the CEO, department directors to supervisors need to be the example of good interaction and communication in the organization.

Conflict is an essential part of human life in general and world of work in particular. What we need to do is respect the differences from an individual to another and find the best ways to harmony conflict to minimize the negative impacts on other people and the whole organization.

What measures have you taken to resolve conflict at workplace? Please share your best practices in the comment below.