Dealing with Business Conflict: Tips for Resolving Workplace Conflict

When you were once the brand new entrepreneur, sitting at your dining room table, you didn't have to worry about workplace disagreements. In your growing business you now have to worry about disagreements between employees. Here is how you can deal with it.

You may look proudly upon your prospering business until you hear the arguing between two employees. You’re reminded, perhaps, why you quit the “corporate world” in the first place to pursue your own business. You had no idea that you’d come full circle and end up managing others once again. But here you are today with two (or more) bickering employees. It’s bad for morale which is bad for customer service which is bad for business.

So what do you do?

The first thing you need to do is determine how serious it is. The workplace is simply an extension of the family and families have disagreements, sometimes even heated ones. There is nothing wrong with a heated disagreement in the workplace as long as it does not get violent or affect customer service. If either business or someone’s wellbeing is in danger, then you’ll need to shut down the disagreement. Otherwise, you may let it resolve itself. Hopefully, if it’s not a serious disagreement, it will disappear over time.

If, however, someone’s physical well-being is threatened by violence, then it’s time to step in. It can be a very delicate matter, no matter who is involved (for example, a disagreement between two employees, an employee and a customer, or an employee and a vendor). Be careful not to automatically side with the highest-ranking individual or the customer, even if both are critical to your business. Know the facts and, if necessary, end even the important relationships if there is the potential for physical violence.

If good business etiquette is eclipsed by the disagreement, pull the two employees away from interacting with customers. If necessary, put other employees on the front lines and send these two home for the day to cool off. Depending on how serious the argument is, it may even be better to close up shop and not serve any customers than to be open and have customers walk into the middle of World War 3.

Don’t feel the necessity to resolve the dispute for them. Chances are you won’t be able to do so equitably. Disputes are emotionally charged and fraught with perception rather than fact so your efforts to add reason to the mix will usually fall short. Instead, encourage your staff to resolve it. If the dispute is not so serious that violence is on the horizon, and you don’t want to ask your staff to go home, you may ask them to take time apart to think about the situation then meet to develop a resolution.

You may want to help them develop a resolution, although this will not be an easy task. Ask each party what their expectations in the resolution are and try to find some common ground. If there doesn’t appear to be any common ground right away, ask the employees what they would be willing to live with if they had to compromise. Often, that will elicit some common ground.

In some cases, personalities just clash on an ongoing basis without there being a specific disagreement and available resolution. In cases like this one of the only things you can do is encourage communication and help each of them understand how the other communicates.

Whenever people are involved the potential for conflict exists. The solution is not to keep your business from growing or by not adding new people but rather by encouraging open dialogue to help alleviate conflict.

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