Oh, Behave — 10 Tips to Resolve Employee Conflicts

Put many different people together in one place, day after day after day, and conflicts are bound to happen. Most people work them out on their own, but what happens when the conflict doesn’t go away and threatens the productivity of your entire staff or team?

We’ve all seen it – Mary isn’t speaking to Susan; Ted and Tom can’t be put on the same project; Bill goes behind Karen’s back and “forgets” to include her in project discussions. Some days, it’s like working in a kindergarten. As the manager, what is your role in resolving workplace conflicts?

The knee-jerk response of most managers is to overlook the conflict, in the hopes that it will go away. After all, we think, these people are adults; I shouldn’t have to tell them how to behave.

Unfortunately, left alone, a workplace conflict can fester and grow out of proportion until it takes on a life of its own and all-out war is declared. Other employees take sides and the conflict becomes more important that getting the job done.

Here are some tips to control potentially damaging conflicts before they escalate.

1. Set standards. Make sure you have a written set of standards for workplace behavior and conduct. That way, employees know what’s expected of them right up front.

2. Don’t ignore rule-breakers. If workers continue to bicker, argue and backstab, call them on it immediately. Discuss it privately, but make sure the transgressors know that their conduct is unacceptable. Get a commitment from them to not engage in the behavior in the future.

3. Be the boss, not the therapist. You’re right – these people are adults. Resist the temptation to solve their issues for them and throw it right back in their laps. Tell them they’re responsible for working out their own problems. Offer some tips or suggestions when appropriate, but make it clear that you expect them to fix the problem themselves.

4. Walk the walk. Your employees will take their cues from you. If you refrain from getting all heated up over small issues, and you maintain your good humor and reasonable attitude at all times, your employees will follow your lead.

5. Sweeten the pot. Reward team performance and watch the other team members ride herd on the miscreants. There’s nothing like a bonus to make normally combative workers band together to reach a special goal.

6. The final solution. If the fighting continues, draw a line in the sand. Make it clear to all parties involved that the work is suffering and you won’t tolerate that. Their options are clear: they need to work it out, let it go, or their job is going to be in jeopardy.

The bottom line is, you’re the boss. You don’t have the time to spend settling employee spats. If the combatants refuse to play nice, eventually one (or both) of them is going to have to go, for the good of the organization.