Running a company is hectic enough—it's hard to muster the time, energy and patience necessary to help your employees resolve their personal disagreements.
But even though conflict management may look like a distraction from more important business, it's good to nip these things in the bud. Otherwise, they might turn into chronic patterns, lowering morale and even impacting production. Promptly addressing workplace conflict can stop an escalating situation before it turns into something bigger.
So how do you handle it? Try taking practical steps like these.
Find a concrete business reason to talk about the problem.
It often feels awkward or strange to talk about personal feelings at work, but if there's a real business reason to do it—if, let's say, there's a production hangup because of poor communication between hostile coworkers—the conversation will seem more necessary and legitimate. Explain the business problem and use that to frame the conversation.
Sometimes people just need to vent. Frustration mounts when people can’t express their feelings. If there are ongoing disagreements or abrasive personalities, you might get an earful. You may need to meet with each worker caught in the conflict separately to fully understand both parties’ point of view. But remember to listen first, rather than looking immediately for solutions. Try to hear the needs that people are expressing.
Look for common ground.
Resolving conflict means finding common ground, which can be challenging with two opponents who don’t want to see eye to eye. A useful way to begin is to talk about the problem itself. Everyone is likely to agree with some central observations—that there is a real problem, that they don't enjoy working under the tension and stress that it causes, and that they want to find a solution that's good for the business.
Point out misunderstandings.
These can be a huge barrier to finding common ground. For example, task-driven workers and people-driven workers can easily misunderstand each other, even when they want the same outcome. Similarly, extraverts and introverts can misjudge each other's intentions. Helping people see the value in other people's ways of working can help eliminate misunderstandings.
Move toward solutions and compromise.
Sometimes people see compromise as a loss or failure. This means that people often resist good solutions, which often involve compromise. As a leader, you can overcome this resistance by restating the situation so both parties look reasonable, which allows them to maintain self-respect and dignity. Employees will be more likely to agree to a compromise when they feel respected. Be positive about each employee's contribution to the company.
As with any other business problem, you'll need to circle back and make sure the solution is working. Have followup conversations with all parties involved to make sure there aren't any lingering bad feelings. As a business owner, your guidance and direction are critical to making a great company with a positive working environment.