June 28, 2018

Six ways for managers to handle employee conflicts

Conflicts between employees aren’t completely avoidable, and managers must be prepared to resolve them. This means understanding how employees communicate, and setting clear goals for a resolution. Here, some tips for managers, from our VP Employee Experience Deb LaMere.

Deb LaMere

Deb LaMere is the Vice President of Employee Experience at Ceridian. With 17 years’ experience in human resources, Deb is responsible for employee engagement, talent management and performance management for Ceridian.

When everything in your organization is going well, and employees are working harmoniously and happily, it’s pretty easy to manage them.

But what about during times of chaos? What happens when there are heated moments amongst employees, and tensions run rampant? Suddenly engagement, productivity, and retention go out the window. How can you get them back?

Often, workplace crises begin with something small, like a miscommunication or a misunderstanding between two co-workers. Unfortunately, little things like this can blow up into bigger catastrophes, and managers must be prepared to resolve them.

When chaos breaks out in the office, bosses need to resolve disagreements without showing favoritism to any one employee. With different personalities and values in the mix, some employees will have a harder time getting along with each other than others. Conflicts between employees aren’t completely avoidable. But handling it well builds employee motivation, helps to open better dialogue within teams, and can even be a positive experience. Here are some tips for managers to better handle employee conflict.

Turn enemies into allies

Many office conflicts break out because two co-workers’ differences come to a head. Therefore, your first strategy should be to attempt to get the two adversaries on the same page. Help them understand that they’re teammates and they should try to resolve problems together. Not every conflict requires a manager’s intervention. Use your judgement and encourage your employees to work it out themselves if it makes sense, and provide guidance or suggestions for how to constructively communicate about the conflict.

Deal with it in a timely and straightforward manner

Simply put, when conflict arises, don’t wait to deal with it, and don’t let it fester. Conflict can be emotional, and those emotions can become heightened as time passes, and can have longer-term negative impact if not addressed. From a manager perspective, your team will respect you more if you confront conflict head on. You’ll create a more trustworthy environment, whether it directly requires your intervention or simply your guidance.

Define a clear goal and the steps needed to get there

The goal of solving a conflict is to find a solution. What does it look like, and what are the steps employees should take to resolve their conflict? Provide a framework through which your employees can identify the outcomes they are aiming for, challenges to get there, possible solutions, and next steps.

Recognize employees’ communication styles

Every employee is unique, and they all have their own styles of communicating. Some are very open with their feelings, while others are more reserved. When employees understand each other’s communication styles, they can better collaborate and contribute to building a stronger team. From a manager perspective, you can provide better coaching by understanding their different communication styles and helping to prevent future conflict from arising. As well, you’re better equipped to promote an environment of collaboration for your team.

Related: Four ways to improve communication with your employees

Avoid taking sides, and listen to both

I’ve said previously that the ability to listen is one of managers’ most powerful tools. And of course, you can’t just listen one side of the conflict, or to the employee who is more vocal (even if that may sometimes feel natural). You have to let each side explain his or her case, so as not to play favorites. As a manager, you need to respect your employees’ differences, and be objective and impartial. Don’t become the carrier of information back and forth between employees. This can reinforce barriers between them.

Explore other pertinent issues

Sometimes, an argument isn’t really about what it seems. People say they’re in disagreement about one topic, but conflict-instigating employees may really have hidden agendas. Dig deep and find out what’s really going on.

Related: Five tips for managers to handle negative attitudes in the workplace

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