It sucks when employees are not getting along. It’s especially tough when there is tension in the workplace between co-workers. Whether it involves you or you have been invited to help to resolve a mess, here are 4 effective ways to handle employee conflict:

1. Be accountable. It “takes two to tangle”, but it only takes one to untangle. How? Start with honest ownership of your role in the conflict. Begin airing out ownership of the conflict by making accountable statements like, how did I contribute to the conflict? Remember, no fault, no blame, and no guilt.  “I furthered the conflict between us by taking my gripes about you to other people.” “I chose to ignore comments directed at me until I was so frustrated, I lashed out in front of co-workers.”

work / business meeting2. Be honest. Is it more important to you that you are right about a situation than it is to be effective in coming to resolution? Employees hate to address a conflict with a person that has to be right. The person who always has to be right, will say what others want to hear in the meeting to resolve the conflict but default to muttering and a back-stabbing afterwards.

Why bother?

When someone is not willing to be anything other than “right”, this overly righteous person must be well managed by his superior.  To start, tell them how it is going to be going forward. If he or she chooses not to get on board, clearly outline the consequences for such a choice. “George, I have to assume that you are not stepping up to resolve this conflict because you lack the awareness or skill to get past it. If this continues, enrollment in Conflict Resolution Skills class will be mandatory and then we’ll go from there.”

3. Ground rules. It’s uncomfortable to handle employee conflict. Take baby steps toward building trust, which is vital going forward. Start with three ground rules as you facilitate burgeoning clarity. 1) We will talk to, not about each other. 2) No “meeting-after-the-meeting” 3) Leave with a clear agreement as to next steps.

4. Reframe conflict to be a teachable moment.  Have each person communicate and describe the following:

√ What happened?

√ How did it impact him or her and the department?

√ What were his or her reactions/feelings about what occurred?

√ What was his or her possible contribution to what took place?

Lastly, have one employee involved in the conflict ask an exploratory question of the other person involved. “I’m not sure why this is happening, did I do something that started this whole thing?” This type of reframing will allow a moment for each involved to learn more about how the “other” person saw what took place.


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