Resolving an employee squabble, let alone a serious altercation, is far from a pleasant feat – but the ability to do so is what truly distinguishes an exceptional boss or manager from an average one. We’ve talked about mediating workplace conflicts before, and there’s still a lot left to say. Knowing how to patch things up and re-establishing harmony among your bickering employees is a skill that can be learned. Do just that and you’ll find it will come in handy – because conflicts are inevitably going to happen, just as they are happening in countless salt mines across the world. Yours will hardly be an exception, but rest assured: you can get a handle on that.
Here are the most common barriers that get in the way of successful employee reconciliation. Avoid these five deadly sins of workplace resolution, and you’ll soon have a white flag of truce fluttering in the office.
- Insufficient and / or inadequate planning and research
Much as you might like it, the “let’s wing it” approach doesn’t work well for dispute resolution. What works even less is ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away – in fact, most of the time, it only gets worse. A mediator should not just talk to all parties involved and try to get as much information about the circumstances of the situation, but think carefully about the right approach to take. Considering the personalities and personal situations of the parties is paramount, so try to get a feeling about every person’s viewpoints, expectations, fears, and worries. Secondly, don’t underestimate the importance of the right setting and time for the mediation – anything that will add to the stress and tension is clearly not going to work in your favour. And lastly, is there another employee that’s not directly involved in the conflict, but that can help you steer the wheel in the right direction? If there’s a colleague equally close to both parties, he or she might be seen as “neutral” in this particular instance, and as such, help smooth things out back to normal.
- Prejudices, stereotypes and other preconceived notions
You may think you’re immune to prejudice or stereotyping – but even if unconscious, your preconceived notions about someone or something are still there; what’s more, they are very likely tampering with your clear and objective assessment of the conflict. How to battle this? Be aware. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Gather as much information on what happened from as many sources possible. And above all, listen!
- Poor listening / communication skills
There’s nothing quite so efficient at broadening misconceptions, misunderstanding and selective perception than poor listening and communication skills. The best way to untangle a dispute and, perhaps even more essential, to mend fences between the two employees is, 1) for each person to openly communicate their emotions and reasons for acting the way they did, and 2), to carefully listen to the other person do the same, and mindfully absorb it. It is your job as a mediator to make sure everyone plays ball. Let them express anger, frustration, sadness, or every other emotion the opponents may have been bottling up inside. Steer clear from interrupting, and step in only for the sake of clarity or pointing the conversation in the proper direction.
If you need more tips on how to make sure the parties are really hearing each other, Forbes has jotted down a list of 10 steps to effective listening.
- Disregarding ulterior motives
Unfortunately, at times, not even respectful listening and frank communication will take you closer to resolution. What if one, or both, or more parties are not acting completely honest and have a double agenda or ulterior motive they clearly do not want to disclose? If the “good cop” approach takes you up a blind alley, it’s time to put on the “bad cop” suit. In other words, try to figure out if the conflict arose because one employee wanted to cross the other one over; is making false claims, threats, or is even blackmailing the other person. Go beyond of what is being said and pay attention to signs like body language, go through the records, and speak to other co-workers and parties that could somehow be involved or know more about the background interests at play.
- Treating the other person without dignity and respect
Every time two people get into a fight, they tend to see each other as opponents, even if for a short time. While this reaction is natural, if ignored can easily slip off hand and fester into a hostile work environment for everyone. In order to keep the work atmosphere productive and pleasant, insist that all your employees treat others how they themselves would like to be treated – always, but particularly so during a dispute. Needless to say, but snarky comments, insults, and other utterly disrespectful acts and behaviours should be nipped in the bud. Don’t hesitate to take a firm stand for dignity and respect in your workplace and especially in conflict resolution. It will work wonders for preventing squabbles and disputes in the future.