Resolving conflict with employees can often be a difficult experience, so much so that many managers wish they had an employee conflict resolution template. Workplace conflict is a common and unavoidable part of adult life, but living with it for years does not have to be. Workplaces are starting to recognize the adverse effects that conflict has on the productivity and morale of their employees, and they are seeking out ways to resolve conflict with compassion and efficiency. While one conflict will need a different approach from another, some general tips and tricks create a basic template that employers can use to begin to resolve conflicts in the workplace and restore morale and productivity. Finding a way around or through conflict can help create a stronger and more dynamic team.
Step One: Identify the Source of the Conflict
Before a conflict can begin to be resolved, the source of the conflict needs to be identified. Understanding where the conflict originated will help management create a plan to resolve the conflict and identify the key players that will need to have a role if there is to be any resolution. This step can be relatively easy if the conflict is identified and addressed quickly after it starts. This usually means that the conflict is isolated between a couple of people or teams. The source of the conflict is readily identifiable and the conflict is limited to that disagreement. It has likely only affected the productivity of a small portion of a workplace and has not caused companywide issues.
However, it can be incredibly difficult to identify the source of the conflict that has spread to other areas of the company and has begun to affect the productivity of other teams before it is addressed. This type of conflict can be incredibly difficult to identify because it often causes other small conflicts that will need to be identified and addressed before moving on to the next step. It is also difficult because the original conflict is not always easily identifiable and it was usually a quiet conflict that went unnoticed for some time. Identifying the parties will usually require an investigation and individual meetings with everyone involved.
Step Two: Ask Clarifying Questions
Once some or all of the parties have been identified, it is important to ask clarifying questions to gain a wider understanding of the conflict and what is the cause of the issue. This portion may be a part of identifying the source, especially in complex conflicts, but it may also happen after all the parties are identified. These questions will help the parties evaluate what the true cause of the conflict is and how to address it. It also allows management to see the issue from each party individually and can give the parties a chance to share what they may need to move past the issue begin working together effectively once again.
An important note on this point is that these questions need to be asked in individual meetings with each party. This is important for several reasons. First, there is a level of trust that will be present as the conflict resolution process continues. It establishes a rapport that allows the parties to know that the management can be trusted and would like to solve the conflict between the parties. Second, it stops the parties from reacting to the answers that the other parties, either by creating more conflict or altering their story based on how the other party told their story. Finally, it gives each party the ability to speak freely.
Some questions that can be asked are:
- How do you believe this conflict started? This allows the parties to present their story to the decision-makers.
- How is this conflict affecting your performance at work? This will help identify what other areas at work are affected, including any other parties that may need to be added to the conversations.
- How has this affected your emotions towards your coworker? This will help identify how the emotions between the parties are affected and how difficult their relationship may be moving forward.
- What is the most important aspect to resolve? This allows the parties to identify the biggest issues within the conflict and how they are affecting the workplace.
- What would you like to see happen? This gives the parties a chance to identify potential solutions that would serve some or all of their needs.
While asking these questions, it is important to be practicing active listening. This will further instill trust in the process.
Step Three: Identify the Type of Conflict
There are several types of disagreements and conflicts that may pop up in a workplace. Understanding what type of dispute is at the center of the conflict will help determine the best way to move forward on the rest of the resolution plan. The type of conflict can be identified through the questions above and understanding the story. Some common types of workplace conflicts are:
- Leadership: Occasionally, leadership styles will differ, and this can affect the ways that teams and coworkers respond. This can be particularly difficult when teams that have different leadership styles have to interact.
- Project-Based: Project-based conflicts are those that result from differing opinions on how a project or task should be completed. This often happens when different teams fail to do work on time and it affects another team’s work.
- Personality: This is a common conflict based on interacting personalities in the workplace. It is most often based on misunderstandings about the person’s feelings or actions and it spirals into a further conflict.
- Idea: Conflict based on ideas results when employees are working on a creative or innovative project and have to choose an idea to use. This type of conflict results from this choice. Often, team members will feel that their ideas were overlooked or ignored.
- Experience: Experience-based conflict arises when working on a team with diverse experiences. This often results in another form of conflict, but it is important to note when a person’s culture is influencing the conflict at hand, as there are likely other issues that will need to be addressed to resolve the issue long-term.
- Discrimination: Discrimination is more than just a conflict in the workplace, as it affects someone’s life and causes issues based on their identity. Discrimination is illegal and dangerous, so it is important to identify potential discrimination issues and address these swiftly and effectively.
Understanding the type of conflict will help management understand what needs to be addressed to move away from conflict and continue to increase productivity. It will help identify solutions that may not be present without a full understanding of the issue.
Step Four: Examine Solutions
Once a conflict has been fully identified, the parties and management can begin to consider different options for resolving the conflict. This requires that the parties meet to discuss the possible solutions. A meeting of this kind will need to be done in a neutral environment and will need ground rules to encourage the parties to remain respectful toward each other. This conversation is meant to help the parties see the conflict and work to address the issue, not for the parties to argue about the issues with each other.
The mediator or management person may ask each party to explain the issue from their perspective and offer suggestions for what may help to solve the problem. Each party will have an idea in their head of how they would like the conflict to resolve, and the key in this situation is to figure out which of the possible solutions find where these ideas overlap. The overlapping solutions will likely present a solution that is acceptable to all the parties and encourage a productive and conciliatory environment moving forward. This solution may be found easily once the parties have a chance to discuss the dispute; however, it may take the parties a long time to identify a mutually agreeable solution. Once this solution is identified, the parties will also need to discuss the implementation of such a solution and begin to lay the groundwork for it.
Step Five: Agree on a Plan
Each party will need to leave the meeting with steps that they can take to implement the solution into their daily life. The final step of this meeting and the resolution is creating these actionable steps and identifying a way to engage the process and identify any areas that may need additional work. The best solution will not fully change the parties’ attitudes toward each other, but it will help the parties move forward with different ways to interact with each other. They will also need to leave with a clear path that they can follow to modify their behavior moving forward. This plan will need to be followed up on several times to ensure that the solution is working. This ensures that the parties are keeping up with the agreement. If it is not working, the parties will need to consider other options.
While the conflict in the workplace is unavoidable, a company can have a plan to address the conflict efficiently and ensure that the coworkers can continue working together. A company needs to identify the source, ask questions, and find the type of conflict to best formulate an option for the parties. Once the source of the conflict is identified, the parties will be able to explore solutions that may work for them and make a plan to move toward resolution. When a company has a plan to address workplace conflict, it will avoid and heal conflict quickly, increasing productivity and encouraging healthy growth.