Many of the questions that come into SHRM’s HR Knowledge Center are about things like the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or compensation, but occasionally we’ll get questions about how to deal with employees who don’t get along. I personally don’t like these situations, but, as a former HR professional, I know practitioners are bound to encounter them from time to time.
I can remember two such situations in my career—one where I succeeded and one where I failed in my attempts to resolve conflict.
My successful attempt involved an older worker and a younger worker who could not see eye to eye. I was on vacation when I received a message that the two were arguing again. I left the beach, summer attire and all, and drove to the worksite to deal with the matter. I took a risky approach: I brought both women into the conference room and advised them that if they couldn’t work with each other, one or both would have to leave. I told them to make the decision, and I left the room and prayed that it would work. Well, it did! The two talked it out and decided they could work together in a professional and friendly way. I was so proud of myself, even though I knew I had taken a huge risk with that action.
The other situation was not so successful. Since my earlier approach had worked so well, I thought I’d try it again. The circumstances were similar: Two women in the same department were bickering constantly. I gave them the same message, left the room, prayed again and when I returned, one of them had decided to quit. I wasn’t expecting that.
After many years of professional growth, I found better ways to manage conflict. Here is one approach that we have shared with members looking to resolve a conflict between employees.
- Arrange for the employees to meet in a neutral setting.
- Set the ground rules, like treating each other with respect.
- Have them describe the conflict, encouraging the use of “I” and not “you” when speaking.
- Have each employee restate what was said by the other employee.
- Summarize the conflict based on what you heard.
- Brainstorm to find solutions.
- Summarize all possible solutions.
- Assign further analysis of each possible solution to the employees.
- Obtain agreement on the next steps.
- Close the meeting by having the employees shake hands or elbow bumps, apologize, and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.
As I learned, having two employees work out their differences alone can be risky. Having a mediator present may be wise in facilitating an amicable meeting that brings about the best resolution for the employees experiencing the conflict, their co-workers, and the company. Mediation will guide and encourage respectful and healthy conversations between employees.
If you want to learn more about conflict management or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!
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