Because we can spend so much time at work interacting with different personalities, conflict between co-workers can be common. If you are the company owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to minimize conflict and the negative effects it can produce.

Unresolved workplace disputes may corrode your bottom line – and quickly. Conflict can produce stress and anxiety. Employees in conflict with co-workers aren’t focused on the task at hand, and may become resentful and unproductive. Conflict that festers can lower employee morale, so it’s important to move quickly when disagreements or disputes are identified.

Employees should be encouraged to identify what’s causing friction in the workplace. Problems need to be fixed, certainly, but managers can also use conflict to identify areas of business operations that need clarification and improvement. Conflict that’s addressed quickly, openly and impartially can be a valuable asset to the savvy business owner by leading to creative solutions to problems that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. So, office conflict need not have negative consequences when channeled through an open, expansive corporate culture.

1. Understand the Conflict in Detail

  • Who is involved? Sometimes it’s one department in conflict with another. Sometimes it’s manager and employee. Who are the parties to the conflict?
  • Define the reasons behind the conflict. What is the conflict about? Management style? Outmoded systems or inefficient processes? Missed deadlines? Unclear chain of command?
  • Define the scope of the problem. Is it localized within a single department, or is the conflict widespread?
  • How long has the conflict been in place? If it’s a problem with a long-standing history, the parties to the conflict may have “dug in their heels,” making resolution more time-consuming and, in some cases, more critical to the long-term success of your company.
  • Why is there conflict? This isn’t always easy to define. Personalities clash. It happens, and when it does, you may have fewer options to turn a negative into a positive. If it is personal, talk to each party individually.

2. Create a Conflict Resolution System

Write out the rules and develop a step-by-step procedure that encourages conflict resolution. Follow the rule book as the conflict “referee” to eliminate any suggestion that you favor one employee over another. A conflict resolution system also clarifies the procedures for filing complaints and resolving differences of opinion.

3. Forget the Titles

Does a regional sales manager have the in-depth understanding of shipping that your shipping department members have? Probably not. Conflict can arise between employees on the same tier, or conflict can develop between managerial and subordinate staff. Encourage all employees to identify conflict and to follow the written rules of conflict resolution. Forget titles and keep focus on the conflict. You can learn from all employees. In a conflict between management and a shipping clerk, the clerk might have a better way of handling that part of the business.

4. Remain Impartial

As manager or owner, remain impartial. Gather parties in conflict and facilitate an open exchange between all factions. Give all parties equal time. Take notes. Then, give yourself and your employees a few days to think over the source of conflict, and ask these staff members to create solutions that work for them.

In the end, you may not accept all the improvements they recommend. However, by remaining impartial, you’re not only a non-threatening source of fairness, but you may also discover problems in current procedures and systems that can be repaired.

5. Praise Loudly, Criticize Softly and Ask for Help

Conflict can often deliver solutions, or even a better business model. When that occurs, praise the parties involved for their dedication. Let the entire workforce know the contribution these employees made.

On the other hand, if a manager’s heavy-handed tactics are causing a morale problem, talk to that manager privately and ask for assistance in resolving unproductive conflict. Most employees, at all levels, want to help. Asking for help from those in conflict often can lead to the most positive outcomes.

Keep the peace and discover opportunities to improve your operational model by addressing conflict quickly and without bias. In the end, your employees will probably be happier, enabling your business to grow more quickly with a contented, confident staff.