Figuring Out How to Deal With Staff Conflict

When the workplace is typically a reasonably peaceful environment, people may be caught off-guard when there’s conflict among staff. Conflict can range from minor disagreements to constructive debates to all-out hostility or refusal to get along. As things get worse, the work environment becomes tense and hostile, impacting productivity and morale. When conflict intensifies from a minor argument to something that snowballs, it’s time to figure out how to deal with staff conflict.

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Recognizing Signs of a Problem

There are a variety of signs that trouble is brewing among staff. A few things to watch for include:

  • Teams fail to meet deadlines because they are having trouble working together
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Employees showing signs of disrespect to each other
  • Employees requesting not to be assigned to work together

Observe the behavior of staff members by both watching and listening. Body language and facial expression can say a lot. Listen for a tense tone of voice or a sarcastic tone.

What’s Triggering the Conflict?

The first thing that needs to be done is to find out exactly what’s going on. Is the conflict in any way related to discrimination, bullying or harassment? If it is, you’ll need to involve HR right away. Once you’ve ruled out these possibilities, determine how likely it is that staff members can work the dispute out on their own.

Leaders don’t have time to get involved in every conflict, and in many cases, it’s not necessary to get involved. There are times when it’s obvious that the disagreement is worsening and affecting other staff members. If that’s the case, ignoring the problem isn’t an option.

Listen to Both Sides of the Story

When you’re trying to figure out how to deal with staff conflict, it’s important to gather as much information as you can. Arrange a meeting between you and the staff members who are in conflict. Establish some ground rules such as no yelling and no interrupting. Each should be given a chance to express how they see the problem and what they’d like to see happen. Take notes as each of them speaks and repeat back to them what you’ve heard.

Sometimes initiating a calm, non-emotional discussion can reveal where communication has broken down. There may have been confusion over who was responsible for what, or one may have misinterpreted something the other said or did. Figure out how they each see the problem.

Brainstorming Solutions

Let the staff know that failing to come up with a solution isn’t an option. Brainstorm possible solutions and listen for common ground to see if there’s a way to compromise. Remain objective during this discussion and avoid choosing sides.

Once you’ve come up with a plan for the next action to take, schedule a follow-up meeting. Find out if the actions you decided on together are working or if there needs to be a different approach. Find out if one or both of those in conflict isn’t doing what was agreed on.

How to Deal with Staff Conflict That Persists

When there’s continued conflict or lack of cooperation, you’ll need to decide what happens next. It may be time for disciplinary action with the help of your HR department, especially if one of the staff members seems to continually cause trouble or have difficulty getting along with others.

Another option is to get help from outside the company. Experts in conflict resolution can be brought in to mediate conflict and may bring a different perspective. Conflict resolution skills coaching is a good way to identify where your approach may be ineffective which can help you learn new approaches on how to deal with staff conflict.

Reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems for conflict resolution skills coaching or conflict transformation services.

Valerie Dansereau

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