Employee Conflict: How to Intervene

The U.S. Department of Justice reports more than 2-million violent workplace crimes, on average, occur each year in the U.S. Homicide is one of the leading causes of death in the workplace.  Retail businesses report nearly 300,000 individual violent workplace incidents a year.

So, how can you deal with conflict and potential violence in your workplace to lessen the chance it blows up into outright violence?

To defuse problems which can trigger violent reactions, you need to stay alert to warning signs of employee conflict and be ready to take action when it’s called for.

So When Should You Intervene?

Step in when:

  • there are threats or insults involved.
  • employees can’t reach a solution by themselves.
  • employees’ solutions don’t fix the problem.
  • the situation is disrupting business.

Stepping in when it’s called for doesn’t mean trying to decide on the spot who’s right.  Meet with each employee separately and try to identify and clear up misunderstandings.  Address each person’s needs.  Establish common ground.  Mediate.

Steps to Avert Violence

Try one or a combination of these approaches to prevent conflict from leading to violence:

  1. Turn conflict into consultation.  Ask employees to pinpoint the root of the problem.  Listen to each person’s side.
  2. Take charge of the situation.  Tell employees their opinion matters, but ultimately the buck stops with you and you want things done your way.  Use this method sparingly.  For instance, when quick action is vital.
  3. Work toward a compromise. This appeals to reason, lets everyone participate in finding a solution and share responsibility to carry it out.
  4. Focus on the solution rather than on the conflict. Integrate all parties into a creative solution.  This works best when work methods or issues are at stake.
  5. Step out of the way. Let someone else intervene or let employees hash it out themselves.  Perhaps someone else can deal with this squabble more effectively.  You may still end up handling it later.

Intervention is only part of a violence prevention program.  Make sure security measures have been taken, policies are in writing and training is ongoing.

Act on Warning Signs

Warning signs: Bullying acts.  Intimidation of one employee by another employee.  Threatening words or actions.  Harassment of one employee by a coworker.

These can be early warning signs of employee behavior which can lead to violent, physically and emotionally harmful acts.

Intervening and acting as soon as you become aware of such “warning sign” behavior can substantially cut the risk of violence in the workplace.


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