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Workplace Conflict: What’s Your Role?

The project isn’t going well, and the client isn’t happy. You gather your team for yet another confused, unproductive status update, and during this tense meeting, you start to understand the nature of the problem: Two members of the team just aren’t getting along. There’s a rift between them that they seem unable to resolve, and the longer the issue festers, the more upset the client becomes.

As a manager or supervisor, what’s your role in this conflict? Should you wade into the mire and act as a referee, listening carefully to every past grievance and every accumulated insult in order to help the two resolve their differences? Or should you stay out of it and simply demand that they act like adults and put the work first?

Depending on the nature of the conflict, your path will probably fall somewhere between these two extremes. As you search for a balance between hands-off and hands-on, keep these considerations in mind.

First, give them credit for trying.

Most young employees genuinely want to excel at their jobs and win the praise of their supervisors. So if the conflict is so deep that it prevents both parties from meeting this goal, there’s a strong chance they’ve already tried to work it out on their own. Sometimes interpersonal conflict is petty and silly…but sometimes it isn’t. If they’ve made an honest attempt to rise above it and they just can’t, it’s time to respect their efforts, recognize their limitations, and give them a hand.

Listen.

Don’t lose yourself in this issue (you certainly don’t have time to act as a marriage counselor for hours on end.) But if possible, schedule a short meeting with both parties and let them clear the air. Listen to what they have to say. Keep a closed mouth and an open mind.

Lay down the law.

Be a wise, honest, and fair judge…but be a judge. If you simply dismiss them from your office insisting, once again, that they “work it out”, you’ll lose. The work won’t improve, you’ll lose their trust, and you may even lose one or both employees if they start searching elsewhere for another job. Your decision may not be perfect, but make a decision.

Enlist the help of HR and your legal team if necessary.

If the conflict involves workplace policy, pay scale issues, legal matters, or anything outside your area of expertise, don’t guess and muddle your way to an answer. Get qualified help.

Some interpersonal problems can be avoided if you hire the best possible teams in the first place. For more on how to build a functional workplace culture from the ground up, contact the staffing experts at PSU.

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