Resolving conflict efficiently at work

Are you Wasting Time Handling Office Conflicts?

It has been estimated that managers in large companies spend 20% of their time handling office conflict. If the manager works 40 hours each week, one full day each week is spent handling conflict, or a total of 416 hours per year. Even at a low salary of $15 an hour, at least $6,240 is wasted each year handling conflict.

What exactly does office conflict do to your work place?

First, there is tension and hard feelings amongst the affected employees. However, many times, other employees are innocently brought in. One employee may complain to another, and suddenly the entire department is mad at the other party. Time is wasted and productivity is down. Other employees may feel tense and uncomfortable, creating a hostile work environment. If sides are taken, a full fledged office war may occur.

How can you resolve the situation before it affects the company?

You must handle the conflict immediately. If you let the situation fester for several days, exposure will be broader. More employees will be brought in, and the situation will only grow larger. As tensions rise, employees may become involved in verbal or even physical confrontations.

If you notice there is a conflict or another employee brings it to your attention, it is your job responsibility to immediately take action. Simply ignoring it and hoping it goes away will not work. Office productivity will be severely affected.

What type of action then should you take?

Begin by bringing the antagonists into your office. Avoid having personal one-on-one meetings with both parties. Your opinion may become biased after you hear one side of the story or the employees may feel that you are acting like a judge. It is not your job to "make a ruling." Instead, act like a mediator.

Allow both parties to tell their side or point of view. Create a time limit for each employee to speak. For example, let the first party speak for 5 minutes without any interruptions. The second party will then get their 5 minutes. Do not allow interruptions or verbal attacks during the speaking time. Encourage the employees to explain their viewpoint without disrespectful comments or name calling. The goal is to have the conflict’s cause exposed without an emotional fight.

After the conflict is clearly laid out, ask each party for a possible solution. Allow them each to think about what they have heard from the other party and their own viewpoint to determine the appropriate action. Clearly explain that you are not out to judge or punish. You simply want to see an acceptable resolution reached. If the conflict occurs because one employee is not doing their job, ask both parties how the other can improve or adjust within their respective job responsibilities.

Once both parties have offered possible solutions, try to reach a resolution that will suit both. For example, you may find that Tim is mad at Suzy because she turns in important reports too close to the deadline. Work to find a deadline that will allow Suzy to complete the work in enough time for Tim to review it before his meetings. Whatever the situation, clearly creating set guidelines or rules will help you reach a resolution and also prevent future conflicts.

Inform the employees that you expect both parties to hold up their part of the deal to prevent future conflict. Remember, the employees do not have to like each other or become best friends; they simply need to reach a resolution that allows them to work together and get the job done.

As a manager, part of your job is to act as a mediator. Although it may be difficult to intervene in sensitive situations, it is necessary to reach a resolution as soon as possible to prevent the conflict from turning into a month long argument. By following these tips, you can appropriately intervene and ensure that your employees are focused on the task at hand, rather than office conflicts.