This blog was written by Rochele Bertasso, Senior HR Business Partner at Helpside.

We’ve all been there. Two employees seem to be at odds with each other and it’s getting personal. Maybe at first it was work related, but now it’s getting out of hand, tensions are escalating, and the negativity is being felt by everyone. When employee conflicts arise in the workplace and employees are taking sides, what can you do to restore peace and move toward a more productive and positive atmosphere?

Know when to step in

While it’s counterproductive to be involved in every employee issue, we should step in under certain circumstances. When disagreements are getting personal and respect between employees is being lost, when employees are threatening to quit, when morale and productivity are impacted, when disagreements become abusive or resemble bullying, it is time to step in. In addition, if there are potential legal issues involved such as allegations of harassment or discrimination or threats of violence, it is especially important that we act promptly.

Leverage one-on-one employee meetings

If the situation permits, start by approaching employees individually first. Employees can often speak more calmly and productively when not in the heat of the moment or faced with the person they are upset with. Find out what is going on from each employee’s perspective in one-on-one meetings. If the issue is something you as a manager have power to solve and the discussion uncovers issues involving excessive workloads, poor communication processes, or unclear job expectations, take the time to reflect and work to resolve those issues from a management perspective. None of us are perfect and sometimes the question to ask is whether we as managers have inadvertently set our employees up for conflict and frustration.

Set ground rules for employee conflict

When mediating between employees, remind them that it is can be healthy to disagree, but respect and professional conduct are always required even if we feel we have been provoked. We cannot control the actions of others, but everyone is accountable for their reactions and conduct. You may also need to point out that part of working within an organization includes working with people who are different than you are. Cultivating tolerance and respect for everyone is an important core value and helps us all focus on what our highest priority should be, producing high quality work and meeting goals.

Have realistic expectations

When it comes to employee conflict resolution, it helps to have a realistic mindset. If our expectation is that every situation will result in a win-win solution with everyone completely satisfied, we will find ourselves disappointed. When there is uneven power in the relationship, typically the person with more power decides the outcome. When power is even and the stakes are high, we may be less likely to end with a solution everyone is happy with. Often the goal must shift to finding a solution everyone can live with, even if they aren’t necessarily happy.

Follow an employee conflict resolution process

The employee conflict resolution process is simple but easier said than done, especially when tensions are high. While preparation is important, we must be willing to think on our feet and adjust depending on how the conversation goes. There will always be a significant amount of ambiguity and unpredictability when it comes to mediating conflict.

When working through an employee conflict consider taking the following steps:

Step 1: Understand the issue

  • Let each side share what they think the issue is. Discuss until each person can adequately share what the other person’s perspective is.

Step 2: Find some middle ground or common goals, even if that goal is to simply end the conflict

  • Ask each side to share their ideal outcome.
  • Ask the question: What can we all agree on?

Step 3: Brainstorm ways to meet the common goal

  • Be sure to acknowledge the things that cannot be changed about the situation.
  • Find ways around the things that cannot change.

Step 4: Agree on the best way to resolve the conflict

  • Look for win-win solutions.
  • If that is impossible, find a solution everyone can live with.

Step 5: Acknowledge the solution and each party’s responsibility going forward

  • Have both parties acknowledge the solution and what they will do going forward.
  • Ask each to share what they will do to ensure this conflict does not arise again.

Follow up

One of the most important things to do after coming to a resolution is to follow up with each employee. If you are already doing regular one-on-ones, you can use those meetings to ask how things are going and if the agreed upon solution has brought everyone to a better place. You may still have hurt feelings and one party may be unhappy. When this is the case, you may need to point out the positive outcomes, however small, and show appreciation for the employee continuing to do their part even when the situation isn’t ideal.

What to do if the employee conflict continues

If your best efforts to resolve a conflict fail and employees continue to argue, spread negativity, and impact productivity, you may need to explore other avenues. When performance is being impacted or toxic behaviors ensue, corrective action or termination may need consideration. When that is not the case, consider having an additional meeting to work through issues, or seek outside help from an experienced mediator. Clients of Helpside can reach out directly to our HR department for guidance and advice.