Effectively Resolving Disputes at Work

Disputes in the workplace can dramatically affect productivity and morale, not only for those directly involved in the dispute but for others who may be indirectly involved or in earshot.  While managers don’t need to get involved every time two employees have a disagreement, conflicts that are getting worse and not better have to be addressed. Effectively resolving disputes at work starts with dealing promptly with situations that employees aren’t working through themselves.

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Recognize That There’s a Conflict and Identify the Cause

Ignoring conflict is rarely the best solution, especially if other team members are being affected. Once you recognize that there’s a conflict that needs to be dealt with, you need to uncover what’s causing it. Examples of common causes of conflict at work include:

  • Misunderstood remarks
  • Confusion about job duties
  • Different workstyles
  • Stress caused by insufficient help or company changes such as a merger or acquisition

In many organizations, there’s a mix of people from very different backgrounds. When people have had dissimilar life experiences, they don’t always understand each other’s perspectives. Different life experiences may be based on factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

It’s a good idea to set up a meeting with those in conflict and ask them to each calmly explain their side of the dispute. This meeting should be in a private place, away from other members of the team. Emotional explosions and interruptions aren’t allowed at this meeting. Your role is to be a mediator who facilitates the discussion. Practice active listening, which means listening carefully, taking notes and asking questions. Pay attention to facial expressions and body language for clues that either party is being dishonest or unwilling to work toward a mutual resolution.

Stay focused on the problem and not on the individuals. When each person has said their piece, repeat back to them what you’ve heard to make sure there hasn’t been any kind of misunderstanding. When conflict has been caused by simple misunderstandings, this type of discussion may help to clear the air.

Brainstorming Solutions

Resolving disputes at work requires brainstorming solutions. Once there’s a clear understanding of the source of the conflict, each of those in conflict should state what they’d like to see happen. Look for common ground and possible ways to compromise. Keep your own emotions under control and don’t take sides. Remaining impartial is important so that neither employee can leave the meeting feeling like you exhibited favoritism.

Let them know that not coming up with a solution isn’t an option and that both of them may have to settle for part of what they want, but not all of it. Don’t assume the conflict is settled after one meeting. Set up a follow-up meeting to see how well the solution that you decide on is working. Be prepared to make further changes if they are needed, but make sure both employees are making an honest effort to be cooperative.

If there continue to be disagreements or hostility, further action is needed. There should be no tolerance for one employee treating the other with disrespect or refusing to implement the agreed solution. If things aren’t getting better, ongoing conflict may require assistance from the HR department. Involve HR from the beginning if the conflict is related to issues like bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Another option for resolving disputes at work is to involve outside experts who specialize in conflict resolution. This puts the dispute in the hands of people who are specially trained to deal with many different kinds of conflict, and sometimes those who are in conflict are more open to this type of intervention rather than working with people within the company.

Get in touch with Pollack Peacebuilding Systems for conflict resolution services or conflict resolution skills training.

Valerie Dansereau

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