How Great Managers Can Handle Conflict in the Workplace

Unresolved office conflicts cost businesses well over $359 billion a year.

That’s a LOT of money. Imagine where you could be spending that amount on (employee bonuses, Holiday parties, personal vacations, etc.).

Workplace disagreements may seem petty, but if not handled properly, it could grow to involve almost all employees – affecting performance, morale, and culture. You already have plenty on your plate. The last thing you need is your star worker resigning because he can’t take what’s become of the company.

Inasmuch as you need to handle crisis as soon as possible, there’s a right and wrong way of resolving it. Here’s how great managers do it.

Step 1: Observe

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Avoid stepping into hot coals – at least for now. Don’t forget: there are at least two sides to everything. The third one is the TRUTH. Once you are aware of what’s happening, carefully monitor the parties involved. Who are they? What are their personalities? What started the conflict? Can it be resolved without your help? Sometimes, employees can manage situations on their own.

For circumstances involving deeper issues (like theft, scandal, or office politics), make sure to collect necessary evidence. You don’t want to just point fingers. Don’t allow your feelings to seep into the argument. Some managers have the habit of siding with one party because the employee has become a friend or a personal favorite. Be as objective as you can during this stage.

Step 2: Mediate and Listen

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If the conflict doesn’t show signs of dying, it’s time to call in the participants. During this step, you will act as a mediator. That means:

  • NO blaming
  • NO personal motives
  • NO taking sides

Your most important task is to LISTEN. Simply let the employees talk it between themselves. However, step in should you sense aggression or lack of cooperation.  This can be very difficult, not to mention emotionally draining. Show that you are a trusted team coach by remaining calm and composed.  

Step 3: Offer Solutions

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Should the employees involved fail to come up with a reasonable agreement, it’s your duty to give suggestions for conflict resolution. This is also the point where you should gently assert your leadership without being pushy.

For instance: say your sales division is having trouble working well with your digital marketing team. During your talk:

  • Begin your sentences with “I” because it’s less confrontational
  • State how you feel about the situation
  • Emphasize the importance of corporate values
  • Make a request for both teams to work together

Whatever you do, NEVER criticize. Statements like “stop being so sensitive!” or “you’re too emotional” will get you nowhere and will likely just result in your employees losing trust in you as an effective manager.

Step 4: Mitigate the Damage

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If the conflict blows out of proportion OR if one of more of the employees begin talking, gossip will soon spread throughout the workplace. You want to avoid this. Rumors do not just possess destructive qualities, they can also lower office morale. Plus, in this age of social media, you don’t want people talking about your company in a bad light.

Once a resolution has been reached, make an effort to let other employees know that everything is now in order. Hold an impromptu office event. Treat workers to pizza. Organize a weekend team-building activity. Even something as simple as having coffee delivered to your team says that you care that they’re still doing their best. Hold a meeting – if you have to – to remind workers about how important business principles are to the success of the firm.

Conflict between two employees can sometimes escalate long after the storm has passed. Hence, you don’t want to take your eyes off of them just yet. Remain alert until you are fully confident that they have finally solved their issues.

One of the best ways to avoid conflict in the workplace is to hire smart.

Often, arguments within office spaces happen because of personality clashes. Unfortunately, you won’t really get to know someone during the interview process. However, you can get a good glimpse of how they are based on a) how they treat others BEFORE the interview; and b) their responses when asked why they left their previous employer.

Do background checks and ask for referrals. Don’t forget to peek at candidates’ social media accounts for any red flags. If possible, have potential employees spend some time with your current workers.

You can’t avoid disagreements because they are part of the professional industry. But understanding how to properly handle conflicts is what separates good managers from great ones. The question is: which are you?

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