Tips on Resolving Conflict in the Office

What is the hardest part about being a manager? Ask any member of management or supervisor this question and chances are you will receive a wide variety of answers. One manager may feel that firing a worker is hardest, while another may struggle with the responsibility of making crucial decisions. Another may have difficulty assuming a leadership position when those underneath her are friends.

Often times, there is an assumption that the manager doesn’t necessarily produce any work himself, but rather just manages what everyone else is doing. However, many managers are in charge of a number of employees, making decisions, delivering bad news, scheduling, and payroll on top of their own tasks.

While all of these basic functions of a manager may be time consuming and overwhelming, most managers would say that dealing with employee relations is the most difficult task. In the ideal work setting, the manager would simply assign tasks, the employee would complete the tasks, and the business would run smoothly. However, it is only human to have complaints and conflict.

employee difficulty at workAs a manager, you then have one of two options. You can either choose to ignore the conflict and let it run its course. Or, you can choose to become involved. By getting involved, you may quickly infuriate the employees (especially if one notes any favoritism). If the conflict is personal, getting involved may be awkward. As a manager, it is your responsibility to decide when to intervene and how to approach the conflict.

It’s understandable that you want to be liked among your employees. You may even hold friendships with some. While it may seem that you are playing principal with a group of 7th graders, it is part of your job to handle the conflict. You may consider offering the employees a chance to work the conflict out on their own. However, if this doesn’t work, left alone, the dispute can quickly spiral out of control, affecting performance and even other workers.

When you are faced with office conflict (and you will be), there are a few tips to appropriately resolve the problem.

* Hold a meeting in which each employee has a certain amount of time to tell their side of the story and voice their problem. Consider having them create a written statement for legal purposes. No, it is not your job to decide who was right or wrong. However, it is your job to hear both sides. By having every aspect of the conflict out in the open, you can then begin to develop a resolution.

* Often times, those involved in a conflict focus all of their attention on simple details. A small fight regarding office supplies can quickly become a huge blowup that brings in personal details and ruins friendships. As a third party negotiator to the situation, you can help bring the fight back into perspective. Is it really over a stapler? Or, is there a larger, underlying issue?

* Focus on a resolution. It is your job to work toward a resolution and help the employees overcome the personal details. Spending 5 hours discussing small details is wasteful and counterproductive. It is better to spend that time focusing on a resolution that all affected parties can agree upon.

* Make it clear to the workers that ending communication is not an option. Most likely, the employees work very close to each other and communication is essential for their job. They must reach a resolution that maintains a relationship. They do not have to become best friends. However, they must be civil and respectful to each other.

* Attempt to highlight their past history (if it is good). These employees may have been coworkers for 15 years and are ready to throw that away over a simple dispute. Reminding them of their history may allow them to appreciate the relationship.

* Remember, if any rules have been broken, now is the time to bring in human resources. If one employee is bullying or harassing the other, it may be time for human resources to become involved and corrective action to occur.

* Speak courteously and with respect. Expect the same from the employees. Harsh and angry words will bring you no closer to a resolution.

By actually sitting down and having the situation talked out, you should be able to reach a resolution. Remember that each situation is unique and you are there to mediate, not take sides. Any hint of favoritism and you will quickly lose respect and in turn, decrease morale.

An office conflict can eat through your company like a disease. It can decrease productivity and moral, and daunt your workers. As a manager, it is your responsibility to not let it goes this far. It may be awkward or time consuming. However, ignoring the problem does not make it go away.

About Andrew Jensen

Andrew Jensen, a business growth, efficiency & marketing consultant, provides business advisory services for clients in the Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; York, Hanover, Lancaster & Harrisburg, PA regions. Andrew advises regarding business growth, productivity, efficiency, business startups, customer service, and online/offline marketing. Follow Andrew on Google+

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