When people spend 40 hours a week together, week after week, you will undoubtedly have conflicts. A 2009 study by Psychometrics found that three out of every four human resources professionals have seen conflict result in personal insults and attacks.
There are thousands of ways employees won’t get along with each other — they may hold opposing views on how to work as a team, feel slighted in a project, or simply have trouble communicating. Managers should follow these six steps to resolve workplace conflicts before they get out of hand.
1. Address the Feud ASAP
An employee feud can build up over time and hurt everyone in the office. The tension between the two people can infect the workplace and lower morale, which leads to lower productivity and employee engagement for the entire staff. In addition, it can particularly hurt the two employees who don’t get along, and it could even lead to resignation. The manager’s first job is to address the problem as soon as possible so that all workers know that employee happiness and comfort are important. A leadership vacuum in a challenging time is likely to lead to disengagement.
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2. Define the Issue
Once you address the problem, figure out if it's personal or professional. For personal issues, remind the employees that they need to work out the problem outside of company time. A manager should never feed into personal drama. However, if the workers don’t get along because of something that has happened — or is still happening — professionally, it’s now also the manager’s problem to fix to salvage company culture. Don't let the negative feelings linger. In a landmark nine-country 2008 study headed by CPP, 25% of employees said they had seen conflict directly lead to sickness or absence from work.
3. Decide How to Meet With the Employees
If you've determined the issue is indeed professional, set a time to speak with both employees. For a feud that is clearly emotionally charged, separate the employees and meet individually. Otherwise, it can be best to act as a mediator in a joint meeting. Err on the side of individual meetings if you're unsure - better to learn more than exacerbate the conflict.
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Office gossip can fuel the fire, but it’s important for a manager to always stay above the fray and not allow themselves to be biased by the rumors. Instead, listen carefully to what each employee is saying about the feud and understand that they can be feeling it personally and emotionally. Prepare talking points ahead of time, particularly if you are meeting the employees jointly, so that the meeting stays on point and doesn’t devolve into drama. Allow each employee to offer their side of the story without interruption.
5. Ask for Advice
Once each employee has related their side of the story, ask both how they would solve the problem. Have each worker articulate why they are upset and what resolution would make them satisfied and ready to work. See if you can find the common ground and point it out. Set an objective for how the two should move forward in appreciation of this common ground.
6. Involve HR As Necessary
Sometimes employee conflict can veer into issues of harassment or other complicated issues. In these cases, it’s always best to involve human resources early in the process.
When there are workplace conflicts — even if it involves only two employees — everyone in the company suffers. It’s a manager’s job to step in and resolve the conflict quickly and efficiently. Conflicts don't have to be all bad - that 2009 Psychometrics study also found that 77% of HR pros had seen conflict lead to a better understanding of others. With these six steps as a guide, you can use your management skills to turn an uncomfortable situation into a positive.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.