6 Tips To Manage Conflict Between Staff Members

Monday 16  January, 2012 by Profiles International

Contrary to the popular phrase “ignorance is bliss”, it’s not – especially if you’re the manager of two workers who genuinely don’t get along. When two employees hate each other, their animosity can turn a healthy working environment into a cancer ward. Whatever the reason, it is in everyone’s best interest to address and resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Coworker conflict will always come up; noone can be everyone’s best friend. But coworkers need to be civil and able to work together. The longer the dislike endures, the more likely it is that it will hurt their productivity and that of those around them.

Some would argue that creative tension among peers and coworkers can yield superior results due to the competition and rivalry that is formed. While this might be true in some situations on a project basis, in a day-to-day sense, it can easily establish a permanent us-versus-them culture that devolves into conflict.

If the conflict is among hourly workers, you might be inclined to ignore the spat, or perhaps discipline the employees if it has affected their performance. You may even just let one or both of them go to avoid the drama. However, when the feud is between professional staff, the situation becomes more complicated. And when the conflict is between peers who are vying for an upcoming vacancy due to executive succession planning, emotions and ambitions can get the best of us.

Dislike among workers can stem from any number of work- or nonwork-related issues. Perhaps they’re from different social circles or have differing backgrounds; it could be the way they do (or don’t do) their work; or something trivial such as the sound of their voice or malodorous lunch they eat in your vicinity. No matter the reason, you need to address it – and fast.

You’ve probably encountered people in your personal or professional lives who always seem to be mired in drama and have a knack for dragging others into their issues. If you think “Here we go again” regarding one of the employees involved in the conflict, then that’s probably a sign that the person needs to change their attitude or be sacrificed.

Here’s another thought: if you allow coworker conflict to linger without addressing it, one of the workers (or both, or an uninvolved third worker) could go around you to your boss, making an uncomfortable situation worse. The implications will be clear: “This was brought to the manager’s attention, and they either chose to ignore it, or didn’t know how to deal with it. They’re incompetent”. This could backfire on them, but the damage to your reputation will be done.

6 outcomes of coworker conflict

Once you’ve been made aware of your employees not getting along, here are 6 possible outcomes of resolving conflict among coworkers:

  1. Both parties work out their differences, rise above, and move on
  2. Both parties agree to disagree, but get past it and move on
  3. Both parties say they’ve moved on, but one or both secretly harbor continued ill will. Negativity lurks and performance soon begins to dip
  4. One party sucks it up and acquiesces while the other seemingly “wins.” Conflict could continue
  5. The “wrong” party won’t budge and needs to be removed from the department and possibly let go
  6. The situation damages both workers and both leave

Tips for resolving and avoiding coworker conflict

Each situation will be different, but here are some ways to deal with feuding employees and try to avoid it in the future:

  1. Meet with the feuding coworkers to see if you can remedy the situation. Do this quickly to avoid letting it fester and spiral out of control.
  2. Alert your boss to the situation so that they’re not blindsided by any necessary disciplinary actions now or in the future.
  3. Involve HR as necessary, which could be as an independent mediator, to put difficult employees on notice or probation, or to begin the process of transferring the troublemakers to another department or location.
  4. Advocate an environment of respect, tolerance, and civility in the office.
  5. Maintain an open dialogue with your employees. Freely sharing information and updates on the company and department will quell the need for gossip and rumours.
  6. Review your policies on use of company email and social media sites. Some disgruntled employees will take their rants online either within or outside of the company. Know your company’s electronic media policies and communicate them with all employees.
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