Employment throws us into unexpected territory in many ways. We work in close contact with others in occasionally high stress situations. Even with the most compatible coworkers this can lead to workplace conflict – and “the most compatible coworkers” is sometimes a pipe dream. Conflict in the office is a dangerous thing for many reasons. It lowers the morale of entire teams or departments and provides huge obstacles to what should be easily reachable goals.
A necessary skill for any manager, as well as HR professionals, is conflict mediation. As unfortunate as disputes are, it’s inevitable that anyone leading a team will run into them. So how does a manager recognize conflict and alleviate it before it grows into something larger and threatens other areas of the company?
Decide who to meet with
The circumstances may or may not call for meeting with both parties together. Don’t automatically assume that you should meet them both at once. The nature of the conflict, the relative intensity of each worker’s feelings, and the balance of power between workers can all affect the actions you should take. It may be necessary to meet with them together, or it may make more sense to meet one or both parties privately before bringing them in for negotiations.
Keep communication productive
When employees practice healthy communication, they not only avoid further agitating existing issues but they allow you to learn a lot about their daily challenges and what they need to be successful at work. Encourage them to use “I” statements, elaborating on their feelings and what they feel they need for success, rather than talking about the other party involved. This will keep the other party from feeling blamed and shutting down, which is a risk in any conflict mediation. Pay especially close attention when they discuss what they need in order to do their jobs successfully. This will be important moving forward.
Establish next steps immediately
This is where you incorporate all the information you got from your employees and their undoubtedly stellar communication (thanks to your impressive mediation). It’s important to establish next steps while you’re still meeting with the workers and not leave them for later or expect them to take shape naturally. This means helping your employees to create new action items or review their to do lists (at least the parts that the dispute affects), outlining a new process for completing those that both parties can agree on, and perhaps most importantly, creating guidelines for how they will communicate in the future to begin growing a healthy relationship out of the conflict. This step will involve compromise from both parties. It’s important to remember that everyone wants to get something out of the situation. That’s why you had them lay out what they seek during communication. To the best of your ability, give each of them what they want in a way that doesn’t detract from the other’s desires. This is the key to compromise and conflict mediation.