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Workplace conflict resolution: 7 tips for creating an air-tight policy


A workplace conflict resolution policy is for those “other” offices, right?

Besides, you conducted in-depth interviews, hired extremely qualified and professional people, and pinch yourself because your team walks in with beaming smiles, ready to take charge every day.

It’s workplace utopia.

Until it isn’t.

All of a sudden, Mary won’t talk to Lisa. Dennis keeps sabotaging Jackie’s meetings. And Christina took Sue’s stapler one time too many.

The war is on. What’s a manager to do?

Creating a workplace conflict resolution policy is essential for resolving employee issues and maintaining harmony in your office. If you’re ready to create a policy for your team, use the following seven tips.

1. Promote open communication at all levels

Business leaders should strive to promote healthy discussion within their teams. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree on everything 100 percent of the time. Make sure your employees know it’s okay to have differences of opinion.

When you create and encourage a culture of openness, people feel comfortable saying what they need to say – within professional terms, of course.

This way, ideas and thoughts are expressed in a way that can minimize conflict that might otherwise arise if employees had not had the opportunity to express their minds.

In fact, when managed right, employee conflict can help lay the foundation for more critical thinking and creative problem-solving.

2. Empower employees to talk it out first

To avoid having a situation get contentious right off the bat, encourage employees to first talk about their issues among themselves instead of heading to the manager’s office at the first sign of tension.

In many cases, one person may think something is a conflict while the other person may not. Or, an employee may have a problem with their co-worker, but that co-worker may not know the other person has a problem with them.

Plus, if an employee finds out another employee went to the boss about them, their first reaction might be, “What did I do?” When this happens, things can get ugly fast and the office environment can become tense. Sometimes, just a simple conversation can smooth things out.

3. Encourage employees to alert supervisors as needed

There are situations when two (or more) employees cannot work the conflict out on their own. If an employee is still having trouble with a co-worker after trying to resolve it among themselves, they should alert their supervisor to the problem. Managers can often facilitate a workable solution by helping employees in conflict focus on shared goals and objectives.

If the issue is not with a co-worker, but with the supervisor, the employee can schedule time to speak with the supervisor to discuss their concerns.

4. Know when to get HR involved

If talking doesn’t work and the supervisor fails to help provide a resolution, let employees know they can – and should – go to human resources (HR). Employees should be prepared to talk about their issues, so HR can mediate the conversation and allow each employee to see things from a more neutral perspective. Once the meeting is complete, employees should be equipped with the tools, guidance and a plan of action to move forward.

To ensure ongoing support, HR should have a protocol in place for following up with employees at a scheduled later date. Also, depending on the severity of the situation (such as harassment, bullying, violence, etc.), an in-depth investigation may be needed. Be sure your workplace conflict resolution policy outlines in detail any disciplinary action that may result if an employee is found at fault, including suspension or even termination.

5. Address employee conflict – even when it’s not reported

It’s a good rule of thumb to be proactive when dealing with conflict in the workplace. Managers should never assume that, just because an employee hasn’t said anything, there isn’t an issue that needs to be addressed.

Are co-workers that usually go to lunch together not going anymore? Could you cut the tension with a knife whenever certain employees get in the room together?

“Reading the room” is a simple but powerful technique for staying aware of the mood in your office. If you notice changes in behavior or obvious frustration, address it before it blows up – and encourage your managers to do the same.

Not addressing it almost always leads to bigger problems down the road. For instance, employees who have nothing to do with the situation may be affected by the stressful office environment. You don’t want your employees to feel like they’re in a pressure cooker. That’s not good for anybody – your workforce, your customers or your business.

6. Don’t put an expiration date on workplace conflict resolution

In a perfect world, you’d be able to work out all conflicts in a short time period and never have to deal with them again. But, that’s not always the case and each situation is different.

The thing about employee conflict is that it may arise again between the same employees. That’s why it’s essential you continue to check in and ensure everyone’s still working well together.

Also, some situations just take longer to deal with. On the outside looking in, someone could assume if there was an incident, but no one was fired, then the situation must’ve been resolved. In reality, there may be more going on beneath the surface. What appears to be a lack of action could be the result of a lack of conclusive evidence. Or, maybe a final decision is pending once an investigation provides more details.

Multiple factors can affect the timing of a resolution, and follow-through is key for true conflict resolution.

7. Remind employees about your code of conduct

When people are hired, they have various kinds of paperwork to complete and read. One of them is the employee code of conduct. People may get caught up in their day-to-day duties and forget to follow some basic rules of conduct. Periodically, it’s a good idea to remind employees what’s expected of them and the consequences for violating the code of conduct.

Employee conflict is not an easy issue to deal with. But, by providing a clear roadmap for employees to follow should conflict arise, you can minimize loss of productivity and protect morale.

Want more tips on effective workplace conflict resolution? Download our free e-book: A practical guide to managing difficult employees.