Organization leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive. If turf wars, disagreements, and differences of opinion escalate into interpersonal conflict, you must intervene immediately.
Not intervening is not an option if you value your organization and your positive culture. In conflict-ridden situations, your mediation skill and interventions are critical.
I'm not talking about the daily disagreements that employees may experience at work.
Most employees will get over and past those. But, long lasting conflict that is negatively affecting work and people must be resolved.
And, this kind of conflict can pose a challenge because employees demonstrate that they can't resolve it alone. So, the supervisor's intervention is needed.
Actions to Avoid in Conflict Resolution
- Do not avoid the conflict, hoping it will go away. Trust me. It won't. Even if the conflict appears to have been superficially put to rest, it will rear its ugly head whenever stress increases or a new disagreement occurs.
An unresolved conflict or interpersonal disagreement festers just under the surface in your work environment. It burbles to the surface whenever enabled, and always at the worst possible moment. This, too, shall pass, is not an option—ever.
- Do not meet separately with people in conflict. If you allow each individual to tell their story to you, you risk polarizing their positions. The person in conflict has a vested interest in making himself or herself right if you place yourself in the position of judge and jury. The sole goal of the employee, in this situation, is to convince you of the merits of their case.
- Do not believe, for even a moment, the only people who are affected by the conflict are the participants. Everyone in your office and every employee with whom the conflicting employees interact is affected by the stress.
People feel as if they are walking on egg shells in the presence of the antagonists. This contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment for other employees. In worst case scenarios, your organization members take sides and your organization is divided.
Interested in what to do to resolve the conflict? These are the steps for conflict resolution.
How to Mediate and Resolve Conflict
These are the steps you'll want to take to help employees resolve conflicts in your workplace.
- Meet with the antagonists together. Let each briefly summarize their point of view, without comment or interruption by the other party. This should be a short discussion so that all parties are clear about the disagreement and conflicting views. Intervene if either employee attacks the other employee. This is not acceptable.
- Ask each participant to describe specific actions they’d like to see the other party take that would resolve the differences. Three or four suggestions work well. An example is, “I’d like Mary to send the report to me by Thursday at 1 p.m. so I can complete my assignment by my due date of Friday at noon.”
A second example is, “I would like to have responsibility for all of the business development and follow-up with that client. The way the work is divided now causes Tom and I to never know what the other person is doing.”
- Sometimes, as in the second example above, you, as the supervisor, must own some of the responsibility for helping the employees resolve their conflict. Always ask, “What about the work situation is causing these staff members to fail?”
- If the situation needs further exploration, use a process I’ve adapted from Stephen Covey in which you ask each participant to additionally identify what the other employee can do more of, less of, stop and start.
- All participants discuss and commit to making the changes necessary to resolve the conflict. Commit to noticing that the other person has made a change, no matter how small. Commit to treating each other with dignity and respect. It is okay to have reasonable disagreements over issues and plans; it is never okay to have personality conflicts that affect the workplace.
- Let the antagonists know that you will not choose sides. It is impossible for a person external to the conflict to know the truth of the matter. You expect the individuals to resolve the conflicts proactively as adults. If they are unwilling to do so, you will be forced to take disciplinary action that can lead to dismissal for both parties.
- Finally, assure both parties that you have every faith in their ability to resolve their differences and get on with their successful contributions within your shared organization. Set a time to review progress.
Mediating a conflict is challenging, but as a manager or supervisor, the role of mediator comes with your territory. Your willingness to appropriately intervene sets the stage for your own success.
You craft a work environment that enables the success of the people who work there. I believe you can learn to do it. Conflict mediation is an example of practice makes perfect.