Managing Employee Conflict

Even if you check and double check that employees mesh with your company culture you are sure to encounter employee conflict. It is an inevitable consequence of putting people together in the same environment on a regular basis. Sometimes the conflicts are minor like someone always leaving their papers on the photocopier. Sometimes they are huge and involve harassment or other issues. How do we navigate those issues when small businesses don’t always have a dedicated Human Resources representative or a system in place to report conflict or bad behaviors? It is important to create an environment where people feel comfortable addressing issues themselves or bringing them to you without repercussions.

Be Clear

One of the most obvious things is to have clear expectations about employee behavior. A well thought out and detailed employee handbook can help employees navigate their own behaviors and the actions of others. Avoid any generalized language like “Be kind to each other.” and use phrasing such as “Language considered derogatory or said with intent to hurt is prohibited.” Clearly outline what the consequence is for certain behaviors and make sure you follow those as you deal with employee conflict.

Go to the Source

Small businesses are often a very familial environment where people let down their guards and get very comfortable with each other. This can lead to people gossiping and management hearing rumors second or third hand. When this starts, it is time to go to the person or people experiencing conflict. Call a meeting and give everyone the chance to say what needs to be said. As is often the case, what you are hearing from other employees is nowhere near the actual truth. Don’t participate in the gossip. If the conflict involves you calmly and maturely ask the employee to meet and listen. If the situation warrants it, call in an impartial third party to mediate the conflict when you are involved.

Take Emotion Out of It

We have all been there. We want to yell “Everyone just stop talking!” However, that’s not going to get anyone anywhere fast. Maybe we want to just fire someone because we are so frustrated or upset and yelling “You’re fired!” seems like it would make everything better. Neither is a good option. It is important to be unemotional when making decisions about employee conflict. When you react from an emotional place it makes your employees less trustful of your judgment or resolutions. Everything needs to happen from a place of level headedness and professionalism.

Find a Resolution

Sometimes it just takes a deep breath and a civil conversation to end a conflict. Other times it can mean attorneys and professionals and someone losing his or her job. The important thing is that there is a clear resolution that matches your company culture and handbook. Don’t be afraid to review and look into the conflict. A resolution doesn’t have to come within minutes of addressing a conflict. It can take hours, days, or weeks. Don’t drag out a resolution, because that can cause a situation to escalate; however, it is important to be fair to everyone involved.

Sometimes a resolution means putting new rules or regulations in place to avoid the situation in the future. We can’t predict every type of conflict or issue employees will have with each other.

Conflict can be a good thing. It brings to light organizational issues as well as things that need to be addressed. It can expose employees who are troublemakers or those who struggle with interpersonal relationships. How a business handles the conflict and resolution process can make or break the trust employees have in management. Being consistent and fair gives your employees confidence that you take their concerns seriously, and it will make your workplace a more peaceful and trusting one.

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