The Five Keys to Defusing Workplace Drama and Managing Staff Conflict

One of the more challenging aspects of a business is that you have to manage your staff’s conflict. Dealing with people and personalities is very different than the majority of your other duties where your goal is comparatively straightforward and requires talent and time. Although good management can go a long way, conflicts will inevitably arise due to the inherently tense nature of the workplace. There are always differences in values and viewpoints, poor communication, personality clashes, and unhealthy competition.

Without a solid process in place for effectively handling staff conflict, both morale and productivity can decline to the point where your company falls apart. The following five steps provide a solid framework for effectively neutralizing employee conflicts before a petty dispute turns into utter chaos.

  1. Act quickly.

As a small owner trying to grow your company, the last thing you need is to be resolving minor employee disagreements. However, ignoring these problems could create more trouble. Many times, it seems as though trivial disputes can fest and grow until the entire company is swallowed in the argument. It is vital that you deal with any conflicts within your company as soon as you become aware of the problem and proceed to take steps to resolve it. Not only can a small dispute snowball into a massive war, but if everyone on your team knows that there is a problem and that you aren’t dealing with it, you will lose respect. Besides, the sooner you face a problem, the sooner you can solve it.

     2. Identify the cause of the disagreement.

If you’ve caught the issue soon enough, it will be fairly simple to identify what the conflict is truly about. But it can sometimes be challenging to get to the heart of a problem even in the early stages, especially if it’s staff who constantly butt heads. Given this, you should first get the parties to agree on what is actually going on. You need to then identify what needs aren’t being met on both sides and make sure that there is mutual understanding. Listen carefully to both parties and sort out the facts of the dispute. Avoid any unrelated issues not directly connected to the conflict, and do your best to remove excess emotion from the situation. 

      3.  Identify and respect differences.

Conflicts are very rarely black and white. There are probably numerous shades of grey, particularly when it comes to communication and social interaction. This is due to the change in diversity in our culture and generations. Thus, it is best to acknowledge that we all have different opinions and points of view, and while it is fine to disagree with someone, you can’t let that disagreement turn into a major conflict. If the issue can be framed as nothing more than differing opinions, it is typically easier to reach a positive outcome. As much as possible, try to get each side to understand and respect the other’s point of view, even if they are completely opposite of one another. By getting the parties to put themselves in the other’s shoes, there is a better chance of negotiation and resolution.

      4.  Establish a common goal.

When the conflict has been clearly identified and each side has expressed their views, come up with a shared goal to work towards for resolving the issue. Discuss what each side wants to see happen. Your job is to then find the common ground between those two opposing sides and create a commonality. Try to work towards a resolution that is a win-win for both parties, with each side giving a little. Be creative as you search for solutions, and allow the parties to help you brainstorm outcomes. Develop mutually acceptable criteria for evaluating these solutions, and work from there until you can find a compromise that is acceptable.

This being said, as the owner, you are the ultimate judge and jury. If the parties aren’t able to work together, tell them as much and decide on your own. You will inevitably find some people are simply too proud or insecure to work honestly through a conflict.

      5.  Agree to take responsibility for the resolution.

Once a solution has been decided on, each side should then agree to take responsibility for whatever actions are required to resolve the problem. This may include some action on your part, as well. Taking responsibility can be done verbally, but having it in writing might be the best strategy.

From there, give the parties some time to implement the actions and work things through, and then hold a follow-up meeting to evaluate their success. Find out how each side feels about the situation now that it’s been managed, and make adjustments if needed.

Since managing staff conflict can be extraordinarily challenging even for experienced managers, don’t hesitate to consult with us as your Access Lawyer if you need extra guidance or support. And if the worst-case scenario happens and a party brings legal action against your business, you can rely on us to provide you with an effective and vigorous defense.