5 Strategies for Managing Workplace Conflicts

In a small business, friction between employees is hard to hide and takes a toll on productivity. As the owner, it's up to you to play ref.
August 31, 2012

Conflict in the workplace is a leading cause of stress and causes lost productivity as employees try to avoid those with whom they disagree. In fact, human resource managers report spending 24 to 60 percent of their time managing employee disputes.

About 35 percent of the U.S. workforce has been the target of a workplace bully, with another 15 percent reporting they've witnessed another employee being bullied, according a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). And it's not just bullying that poses problems, but differences of opinion and personality conflicts that can cause employee strife. 

Here are a few tips for managing conflict to keep your team functioning at its best. 

1. Hear both sides. Give both parties a chance to share their side of the story in full.

Sometimes getting everything on the table can reveal an easy solution that wasn't obvious before the issues were verbalized. Often, employees feel better just knowing they've had a chance to share their concerns and be heard. Brian V. Moore, team-building expert and founder of Celebrating Humanity, says it's important to create a level playing field where each person feels as though they can speak without being ridiculed or embarrassed. 

2. Get to the root of the problem.

Easier said than done, but it's critical for developing a win-win solution that keeps the organization's goals at the forefront. As a small-business owner, the more conflicts you mediate, the easier this will become. That's why giving both parties a chance to explain their side of the story in detail is imperative; it will help you identify the core issue. 

Is it a personality conflict? Are the employees in conflict coming from different departments with different goals? Knowing the real issue at hand is the only way to develop the right solution. In some cases, it may be putting the two employees on separate projects or realigning project goals to accommodate different needs is the best solution. 

3. Teach employees to appreciate their differences.

Once everyone has gotten things off their chest, it's a good idea to look at the situation objectively and analyze how the different approaches can actually compliment one another. It might be possible to realign the roles each party has in a given situation to better utilize their respective strengths and minimize differences of opinion. 

If you're experiencing multiple conflicts among employees or divisions, it's a good idea to implement a diversity program, which can help mitigate future conflicts before they boil over to the point that they require mediation from you or your HR manager. You can also bring in a consultant to help you create a program that will work best for your company. 

4. Find common ground.

No matter how significant a conflict or how drastic differences of opinion are, there's almost always something you can find on which the two employees in conflict can agree. This is a critical step in rebuilding lost rapport and creating a platform for problem solving. Some of the areas of possible consensus include:

  • Agreeing on the problem 
  • Agreeing on a worst-case scenario 
  • Agreeing on one small, simple change that can improve the chances for success 

5. Get both parties to buy in to the solution.

Find a solution that keeps the goals of your organization in mind while satisfying both parties in conflict. It may take some time to reach this point, and it will require compromise on all fronts. Imposing a solution and forcing both parties to comply may be necessary in some instances, but the ideal resolution is to identify a plan of action that both parties can live with and agree on. 

Giving both parties an opportunity to participate in the problem-solving process and a sense of ownership in the solution drastically increases your chances of long-lasting success. 

Conflict resolution isn't easy, especially if you're dealing with two employees who simply have a personality conflict. Not all disagreements are resolvable. It's up to you as a small-business owner to take a proactive approach to conflicts developing in your workplace and taking the appropriate steps to develop win-win solutions. If you approach each situation the right way, giving both sides a chance to speak without fear of ridicule, finding a common ground and including both employees in the process of developing a solution, you'll have a much higher success rate in dissolving conflicts. 

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.