Starting a business is like starting a family—a huge family comprised of people from diverse backgrounds with different hopes, dreams, ambitions, stressors, hang-ups, and quirks. Put all these differences under one roof, and like in any family, office conflict is bound to arise.
Unfortunately, few businesses know how to properly handle conflict. They either ignore it and hope it goes away or treat it flippantly. Both are recipes for a toxic work environment.
Here are some tips—tried and true conflict resolution techniques that will help squash office conflict before it reaches the point of no return.
Establish an open-door policy
Workplace conflict can fester for weeks or months before management becomes aware. Establish an open-door policy and honor that policy. It’s the best way to ensure employees bring the conflict to light sooner.
Act quickly to squash office conflict
Don’t assume the conflict will go away on its own. As soon as you learn about it act immediately. Because the reality is, office conflict affects more than just those involved—it affects the entire office making for an uncomfortable, unhealthy environment.
Meet with both parties together…not separately
Contact the individuals involved and schedule a meeting with both, together. This is key—don’t meet with them individually. The goal of this meeting is not about who’s right and who’s wrong…it’s about addressing and resolving the issue. Meeting with the employees individually puts you in the position of judge and jury instead of mediator.
Let both parties briefly summarize their side of the story
This is not the time for throwing knives. Now is the time for a peaceful, structured discussion. Give each person a few minutes to state their case and have the other person listen without interrupting. Often conflict originates from a simple misunderstanding. Allowing both parties time to summarize without interruption can help bring this misunderstanding to light.
Have both parties describe actions they’d like to see the other make
This is a crucial step. Have both participants come up with three or four things they’d like to see the other person do to resolve the issue. For example, “I’d like to see Tony get to work on time, so I’m not left to answer the phones by myself.” or “I’d like for Rebecca to include me in the marketing emails because I’m never in the loop.”
Ask both parties to commit to making changes
Before the meeting is over, make sure each participant vocalizes their commitment to making the changes requested and to treat each other with respect. Let them know that while disagreements are a part of working so closely together, you will not tolerate conflicts that affect the office. Furthermore, make it clear that should this conflict continue, disciplinary action will take place and can lead to termination.
As the leader of your organization, it’s your job to ensure your family is thriving. That means it’s your job to mediate workplace conflict, either directly or through a management team. Take it seriously. Unhappy employees are unproductive employees. Take care of your family and they’ll take care of your business.
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