As a manager, a big part of the position is managing relationships between employees and yourself. Everyone has different management styles, which don’t always go smoothly for everyone in the workplace. Eventually, you’ll likely find yourself in a conflict with an employee, so how do you navigate the situation? Here are some top tips for how managers can handle conflict resolution with employees.
1. Allow Employees to Speak Freely
One common issue with these types of conflict is that employees often feel like they can’t express themselves freely, particularly to a supervisor. However, it’s up to you to ensure that there are clear and open lines of communication, no matter what happened.
Also, even if you are upset with the worker and didn’t start the conflict, it’s important to respect their words and give them a platform upon which to communicate. Otherwise, the situation could worsen, forcing the employee to leave their position or go to someone higher up than you in the company food chain.
2. Listen and Understand Their Side
Being a manager means you have to lead by example. So, if you’re quick to anger or snap judgments, those behaviors can work against you when conflict arises (and create new issues too).
It’s also important for you to reach out to the employee and ask to discuss what happened. Approach the worker with compassion and understanding, even if you’re not feeling like letting the incident go immediately.
Sometimes, being the bigger person and offering a forum for an employee to air their grievances or share their side of the story may be enough to resolve the conflict. If the situation worsens after this step, it’s time to call in a conflict resolution specialist to help.
3. If Necessary, Bring in an Objective Mediator
Mediators are excellent for conflict resolution because they’re coming in with fresh eyes and no formal bias toward one party over the other. Usually, a mediator can help relieve the tension and allow both sides to calm down and share their story freely and openly.
Trained mediators can also identify the root of the conflict and offer suggestions on how to resolve it and get back to work. It’s important to listen to the mediator and agree on potential solutions. Again, you need to set an example for workers, so now is not the time to be petty or vindictive.
4. Consider a Compromise
Compromise is an essential part of being a manager because there’s often a difference between how you want things to go vs. how they actually happen. Sometimes, the best way to resolve the conflict is to switch to a less abrasive management style when engaging with that worker. In other cases, a compromise may be for you to apologize for your actions and make a change to how you approach similar situations in the future.
Another point to consider is that it may take time and several adjustments to find a suitable long-term solution. However, you must make an earnest effort to resolve the conflict before moving on to a different solution.
5. Avoid Retaliation
Regardless of what happened during the conflict, it’s imperative to remain as neutral as possible when engaging with the employee in the future. However, since you’re likely in charge of different elements like hours worked, and pay raises, it may be tempting to withhold these items as punishment for the worker’s behavior. Despite the urge, it’s critical to avoid retaliation, as that could complicate the situation and put the entire company at risk of a lawsuit.
6. Document Everything
When handling conflict as a manager, you’re a representative of the company, so your actions can have more significant ramifications. One of the best ways to protect yourself and the business is to keep detailed documentation of the entire process from start to finish. While each situation will be slightly different, basic documentation should include:
- A report of the incident, including breakdowns from everyone involved. It’s also best to get statements from any witnesses who might have been present during the conflict.
- Reports of your meetings with each involved party, including what you discussed and any actions you may have taken (i.e., sending someone home, filing a police report, etc.)
- An outline of any proposed compromises or resolutions, as well as where they originated. For example, you may ask each party to suggest solutions, or upper management may offer suggestions. Document each of these as well as which ones are discussed with those involved.
- A written agreement of the course of action everyone will take moving forward. Each person involved in the conflict resolution should read and sign this document so you have proof of acknowledgment. If you need to make any adjustments, keep records of each version and make notes as to who requested changes and why. These details can be useful if you need to go back and reference previous suggestions or agreements.
Overall, it’s better to be as detailed and thorough as possible. There are a couple of reasons for complete documentation, such as:
- Maintain a timeline of events, just in case the conflict escalates.
- Verify that the proper steps were taken and the proper channels were involved.
- Ensure that everyone involved can reference the compromise agreement to alleviate any misunderstandings or miscommunications.
- Serve as a roadmap for future conflict resolution strategies.
All too often, managers will simply try to handle the conflict as quickly as possible and not worry about documentation. However, this rushed approach can lead to misunderstandings and potential future incidents. Also, the involved parties may not remember the details of a compromise, so having it in writing can make it easier to fulfill any agreement.
Finally, if you’re involved in the conflict, it’s best to have an objective mediator complete this documentation to avoid a conflict of interest.
7. Alert Your Superiors Immediately
Unless you’re at the top of the business food chain, it’s imperative to notify upper management whenever there is a conflict. Also, it’s crucial to mention it at the beginning rather than once the conflict has been resolved (unless it’s resolved immediately). This way, any executives or upper managers can provide insight or establish a chain of command as quickly as possible.
There’s a tendency for managers to try and fix problems first and then notify superiors afterward, but this approach could lead to potential issues later. For example, if there is already a chain of command or conflict management system in place, it’s imperative to follow those protocols. Otherwise, you could undermine the process or put the company in legal jeopardy.
If you’re worried about raising alarm within the ranks of upper management, you can outline your process and how you’ll resolve the conflict. This way, executives can see that you’re handling the situation and ask questions as necessary. If you’re part of the conflict, upper managers may need to step in and insert a mediator to prevent conflicts of interest or accusations of bias.
8. Stay Objective When Determining Long-Term Conflict Resolution
Being involved in a conflict with a subordinate can be tricky, especially because of the power imbalance. However, as a company representative, you must stay as objective as possible and avoid allowing personal thoughts or emotions to cloud the issue.
Again, having a third-party mediator handle documentation and conflict resolution is an easy way to protect everyone involved. However, if you weren’t part of the conflict, you should be able to act as the mediator without any issues.
One other potential problem could be if you have a closer working relationship with one employee over another. Since you need to dispel any suggestions of favoritism, it may still be a good idea to use an objective mediator. This kind of conflict of interest illustrates why it’s best to treat all employees equally, even if your specific management tactics change based on the individual.
When it comes to determining a long-term resolution, objectivity is imperative because you may have to adapt your management style accordingly. For example, maybe you come across as abrasive, so you have to soften your tone and use more positive body language. While this may seem unnecessary to you, you must look at the situation from an objective perspective.
9. Be Diligent About Following Through on a Compromise
Whether you’re involved in the conflict directly or are handling a conflict among employees, it’s important to follow through on the resolution. When you’re involved, you need to ensure you’re following any agreement as closely as possible. You need to set an example, and if you’re not vigilant about your actions, it’s easy for employees to fall behind with theirs, too.
When it comes to handling conflicts among employees, you should schedule follow-up meetings with each party to ensure they’re handling the resolution as well as possible. During these meetings, you can also discuss potential adjustments or changes as needed. If that does occur, make sure to document the proposed changes and discuss them with the other involved party.
Overall, it’s hard to come up with an ironclad resolution immediately, so it’s crucial to maintain some flexibility during this process.