Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. But when left unaddressed, problems can fester and create more issues in the long run, not just for those directly involved but for the entire organization. That’s why, while not the most appealing aspect of your managerial duties, it’s important to step in and mediate conflict before it spirals out of control.
These six entrepreneurs discuss the tactics they use to resolve office disputes. Hint: It’s all about strong communication.
Interrupt conflict by reiterating your mission statement.
Even when your employees are in conflict, they are still on the same team — sometimes they just need to be reminded of that. Kristopher Jones, founder of SEO company LSEO.com, mediates by having a conversation about the company’s mission and how team efforts contribute to its overall success.
“Immediately reinforce your brand’s mission statement. This will help interrupt conflicting thoughts,” he says. “Follow this by reinforcing positive statements about your company’s success and how that success relies on teamwork, while conflict dilutes it.”
Facilitate, but let your employees talk to one another.
Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of cloud communication advisor GetVoIP, understands that conflict needs to be resolved by the conflicting parties. Taking a step back will foster greater communication between your employees while safeguarding against future conflict.
“Your job isn’t to police but to mediate workplace conflict. You’ll only disempower your employees if you use your authority to dictate a truce,” he says. “True resolution can’t be reached if the involved parties can’t talk to one another — and this will only create greater conflict down the road. When someone is upset, they need to be able to speak their minds.”
Lead with sympathy.
“The first step in dealing with conflict is to listen sympathetically,” says Peggy Shell, founder and CEO of recruitment firm Creative Alignments. Many conflicts are exacerbated by miscommunication and feeling unheard, so simply listening is balm to those wounded feelings.
“By listening to others share what they felt and perceived, you alleviate a portion of the emotional burden. We want to be understood, and if you bring understanding to a conflict, you will help lessen the negativity,” she says. “If sympathy is the core of your mediation, it will go smoothly, and those involved will leave feeling healed.”
Bond outside of work.
While serious conflict calls for dedicated mediation time, smaller issues can often be worked out over fun team activities. Duran Inci, co-founder and COO of digital marketing and technology company Optimum7, has seen tensions dissolve when team members bond after work in a casual setting.
“Happy hour — it works! Creating a casual event where my team can have a few drinks has helped us bond and work together more comfortably,” he says. “People feel encouraged to voice their opinions in a lighthearted way. This alleviates any animosity and creates a more harmonious work environment.”
Get to the bottom of the issue.
Derek Broman, CEO of discount gun retailer Discount Enterprises LLC, lays it all out on the table with a few direct questions. That way, you get both sides of the story and figure out the best solution moving forward.
“To get to the bottom of an issue, you have to know all the facts. Pointing fingers and blaming an entire problem on just one person is not the answer, because it won’t lead to the solution,” he says. “Have each person answer the following questions: ‘What is the problem?’ and ‘what do you think should be done to fix the problem?’ Then, use that information to come up with a solution.”
Find the common ground.
“Turn the conversation toward finding out where each person stands and why,” says Murray Newlands, president of invoicing and expense tracking software company Sighted. Then you can identify where your team members are on the same page, rather than where they disagree, to positively reframe the conversation.
“If there are things that match up as common ground, focus on those things and emphasize their importance over whatever the conflict was,” he says. “I find that the area of conflict is usually really small — what they don’t realize is how much they have in common, like the goal of helping the company.”