Why Workplace Conflicts Need To Be Addressed And Fast

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” Dale Carnegie

A cohesive team is a huge factor in the success of any enterprise. When members of the team have a falling out, it’s likely to impact not only on their wellbeing and productivity but also on everyone else’s around them

According to one major study, US employees each spend on average at least 2.8 hours every week dealing with conflict, translating to $359 billion in paid hours.

The key for any manager is to be vigilant for the telltale signs of friction and to take action as early as possible to avoid any escalation of hostilities. Of course, some competitive jousting is normal and can even be good for the vitality of a team, but there’s a big difference between professional differences and open antagonism.

So how do you address a rift between employees without making things even worse? Here are a few ways you can cool tempers and guide everyone back not only to peaceful coexistence but collaborative unity of purpose.  

Listen first
Give both parties an opportunity to air their grievances without interruption. Sometimes just having the chance to be heard and get things off their chests can defuse the situation before it gets out of hand. If voices are raised or emotional outbursts happen, don’t add to the problem by reciprocating you have to be the voice of reason. Be empathetic towards both employees and avoid passing judgment. You need to hear both sides of the story and if necessary also hear from colleagues who may have witnessed any incidents to gain a more objective understanding of what’s causing the animosity.  

Encourage dialogue
Once you have a good sense of the issues at play you’ll need to secure a promise from both parties that when they’re brought together for a chat they will do their best to be professional and unemotional. Make it clear that you’re not going to be a referee at a boxing match! Setting the ground rules before seating them at a round table with you is critical to ensuring that the meeting doesn’t end up adding fuel to the fire. Afford each employee uninterrupted time to say how they feel but insist that any aggression or finger-pointing will not be tolerated. Once both have had their turn, address each issue raised rationally and without favor. Wherever possible, ask them to talk TO each other rather than ABOUT each other.     

Identify common ground
Often reminding opposing parties of their similarities helps reconcile their perceived differences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a complex discussion: It can be as simple as encouraging them to share their career and personal goals. This also helps temporarily take the focus off the dispute and gives everyone an opportunity to gain more personal familiarity.

End well and monitor
Where possible, end the meeting on a positive note by asking participants to shake hands (or rather, bump elbows!), apologize, and thank each other for making this effort to calmly and responsibly resolve their conflict. Be sure to follow up with both parties over the coming days and weeks until you are sure that the air has been cleared and everyone is back on track. Consider making a positive gesture to previously warring parties for their amicable conclusion by rewarding them in a tangible way - for example with a fun team-building experience.   

Seek expert help
If you feel unqualified to resolve disputes due to their complex or serious nature for example where there are accusations of bullying, discrimination, or inappropriate behavior – the only way forward is to secure expert intervention. This can be in the form of an external consultant such as a mediator, arbitrator, or attorney. It’s vital to know your own limitations, especially where potential legal issues are concerned. 

"Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional." – Max Lucado