Making Peace Between Employees in Conflict

pair-707505_1280Let’s say you have two otherwise good employees who just can’t work together in anything close to harmony.  You overhear them quarreling and sometimes shouting at each other.  Their conflicts are lowering their performance and it’s affecting the productivity of co-workers.

You don’t want to get drawn into their fights but you can’t ignore them either.  What to do?  Take charge with this six-step conflict resolution procedure:

1. Get both sides of the issue.

Meet individually with each employee.  Briefly and directly bring up the issue of the conflict and ask the employee to tell you their side, their position.  Your role is to listen and take notes.  Listen for:

  • Facts.  Example: “I’ve had to close out the till myself every night for the last three weeks.”
  • Assumptions. Example: “If you ask me, Susan isn’t pulling her share around here.”
  • Feelings. Example: “I’m downright angry about this.”

2. Introduce the other employee’s point of view.

Meet with the two employees together.  Or if tempers are too hot, meet individually a second time with the employees. Share what you’ve learned from the other party.  Or with both employees together, let them explain to each other their positions.  Guide the discussion.  Ask each employee to respond to the feelings, assumptions, and facts expressed by the other person.  Help them to get past the feelings and the assumptions and focus on the facts they can agree on.

3. Point out misunderstandings.

As an unbiased third party, you’re in an ideal position to point out how the two might not be seeing eye to eye.

For example, “Ed, though you feel Susan has shirked her share of the closing duties, Susan says her closing duties have expanded since we started nightly inventory counts.”

4. Ask both employees for possible solutions.

This is important.  A solution to the conflict needs to be identified.  It should be acceptable not only to you but to the employees involved in the conflict.  To begin the problem solving, ask: “Do either of you know a way to resolve this situation in a manner that will be acceptable to both of you?”

5. Allow for a face-saving measure.

If one person is perceived as the loser, provide a gentle way out.

For example: “Ed, though you’ll continue to close out the till at night, I’ll have one of the stockers help you with additional closing duties.”

6. Monitor implementation of the solution.

Check in with both employees after the solution has been put in place.  One of them might still be miffed.  Assess whether the hostility is:

  • Residual dissatisfaction from the original confrontation.
  • A deep-rooted anger and sense of injury stemming from the situation.  If the latter is the case, you may need to repeat the above process by arranging another meeting between the employees to continue progress in resolving the conflict.

What should you do if the employees just won’t stop? The root of some conflicts between employees can’t be resolved.  Many times the conflict is a deep-seated clash between personalities.  In these situations, when it appears the six-step procedure above is not going to end the conflict, meet again with the employees.  The purpose of this meeting is to confront the employees with the choice they have: Either cooperate in their work in productive ways, or accept they will have to change positions within the company (if available) or leave the employment.  Be sure each employee clearly understands.

Explain directly the company’s position, perhaps like this: “You each have duties and you each are expected to perform them well. You don’t have to like each other and you don’t have to enjoy working with each other. But for each of you to perform your duties well, it is necessary for you to cooperate from time to time.  You each have an important decision to make: You can choose to cooperate here in the workplace in order to perform your jobs well. Or you can choose to leave our employment.”

[NOTE: Information and guidance in this story is intended to provide accurate and helpful information on the subjects covered.  It is not intended to provide a legal service for readers’ individual needs.  For legal guidance in your specific situations, always consult with an attorney who is familiar with employment law and labor issues]

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