Small Business Services

Nip Employee Conflict in the Bud: Be Proactive

If your company is too small to employ an HR department, or even a dedicated human resources specialist, a lot of personnel issues probably fall to you that you’ve never had to face.

Conflict resolution may be one of them. Left to fester, disputes between employees affect productivity and can lead to outright project failures. So it’s critical that you recognize unrest and find solutions quickly. Here’s a five-step process that you can implement.

  1. Identify conflicts quickly. Successful managers keep a finger on the pulse of day-to-day interactions in the workplace. Interpersonal conflicts, though, can easily escape notice. Symptoms can include slowdowns in productivity, lack of cooperation in meetings and even open arguments and disputes. If such conflicts involve sexual harassment, racial issues, or other hot-button concerns, immediate, decisive action is needed to eliminate the problem and avoid serious legal problems. For typical disputes between staff members, though, a more measured approach can yield results.
  2. Communicate. However you become aware of staff conflicts, develop a full understanding of their nature and source. Listen carefully to both sides of the issue as you discuss the dispute individually with the staff members who have opposing views. Taking action without a clear view of the issues can lead to unbalanced solutions.
  3. Bring disputing parties together. Your most important role is to act as a mediator. Once you clearly understand the situation, meet together with the individuals. All too often, disputes grow out of misunderstandings that have not been exposed. Ask them to describe the problem in their own words and to voice their expectations for a resolution. Make this meeting a listening session for all parties, and don’t allow it to deteriorate into a shouting match or blame game. Work to clear the air.
  4. Clarify priorities and develop solutions. Once grievances have been aired and the reasons for the conflict are clear, explain how the disagreement is interfering with business. Ask the parties to suggest ways to minimize the dispute, find compromises and restore peace in the workplace. Use your experience and creativity to describe what needs to be done and what you expect to happen. In the end, your management savvy will set the course for a successful resolution.
  5. Monitor progress closely. Personal disputes can leave lingering effects, so keep a close eye on the situation. Talk to the individuals involved even after you’ve found a solution. Follow up as needed with additional suggestions. Your leadership and continuing interest is important in establishing and maintaining a more cooperative and productive workplace.

Conflict Resolution Is a Key Management Responsibility

In an ideal world, every work group would be a collegial and cooperative community with common goals. Sadly, that’s rarely the case, but skillful management can minimize the disruptive effects of staff conflicts. Fast, proactive responses to issues that arise will nip problems in the bud and keep your workforce on track.

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