You’re an HR pro, not a referee. But you probably feel like one sometimes.
When there’s conflict in the workplace, employees and managers almost always turn to HR to fix it.
Whether employees bicker, managers undermine each other or teams fall into dissent, you often have to step in. It might be by request or out of necessity, but you’re looked to bring an end to the problem and get everyone to move on.
Conflict in the workplace is real
And you aren’t just imagining that there’s more conflict in the workplace: The CPP Global Human Capital Report found that most conflict happens between front-line employees, and are sparked by:
- personality clashes and egos (49%)
- stress (34%), and
- heavy workloads (33%)
The good news is you can step in and guide employees or whole groups through their issues so everyone (including you!) gets back on track sooner.
Here are six steps to follow:
Two people can go at it sometimes and not even be arguing about the same point. How can that happen (and we know you’ve seen it happen)? Emotions cloud their judgment on everything from what went wrong to how to respond professionally when it went wrong.
To move toward resolution, get them together and ask questions to find facts. Ask them to avoid sharing how it makes them feel (at this point, at least).
Cover these important facts:
- Who is involved or affected?
- What happened?
- When and where?
- How did the situation escalate?
Make sure that both sides get to share their facts without interruption until all three of you understand the issue.
2. Establish the common goal
Everyone involved will likely want something different in the resolution – from an apology or compromise, to a shift separation or project overhaul.
Ask each person what he or she would like to see happen, find something they both have in common and use that as the starting point.
It could be as simple as, “You both want to get over this situation so the project succeeds” or “You both recognize the strained relationship started during an argument when you worked on the project three months ago.”
3. Explore ways to meet the goal
Ask each person to offer a few steps, a change in behavior or procedure, or a whole plan. Even better, if it’s a planned meeting, ask them to come prepared with the potential goal.
Once you have all the possible solutions on the table, suggest a way you believe they can meet the agreed-upon goal efficiently.
4. Recognize barriers
Even the best-laid plans don’t pan out the way people expect – especially when they start from a point of conflict.
That’s why it’s important to help employees recognize what brought them to the point of conflict and how those issues can bubble up again.
When the employees understand the same problems can happen again – plus new issues that might surface while they’re working on a reasonable goal – they’ll be more likely to plan for another breakdown.
5. Agree on the solution
Find a solution that both people can live with. It won’t be perfect. They (and possibly even you) will have to compromise a little.
Lay out the responsibilities each person has in the solution and how he or she will meet and maintain the goal.
6. Put it in writing
Hold employees accountable to their responsibilities in resolving the conflict and preventing it. Ask them both to sign off on a document that includes:
- an acknowledgment of the agreed-upon issue
- the solution they created and agreed to take on, and
- their responsibilities in the solution.