A 7-Step Guide to Resolving Workplace Conflict

Side view of a male and female rival business colleagues in office

Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, no matter how smoothly things run. Conflict between co-workers can be the most harmful type of conflict to resolve, as it can make teamwork difficult or even impossible.

If left unresolved for too long, this conflict could spread throughout the office and cause serious problems. To resolve it, parties may take the following steps:

two woman having a conflict

Step 1: Know the Background of the Conflict

What started the conflict? What’s causing it to be so volatile right now? Sometimes you’ll need to sit down and talk thoroughly with everyone involved to figure out what started things off in the first place.

People may get defensive when you bring up their behavior. They might not even realize how their actions have been affecting you. If your initial conversation doesn’t go as planned, don’t be afraid to approach this from a different angle.

Step 2: Assess the Present Situation

What is the conflict’s current status? How often does it happen? Is it a one-time thing or a more frequent occurrence? How often are you or others involved in the conflict attacked?

Learning how often this problem occurs will provide you with better insight on how to proceed. This information will be helpful if you need to write up documentation of your conflict, or seek outside help, such as human resources.

Depending on the severity or the impact of the conflict, the company can choose mediation and arbitration services. In this arrangement, both parties meet with a trained mediator and try to resolve the conflict.

If the case is too severe, both parties can also opt to go through arbitration, in which an outside consultant (not involved in the conflict) hears evidence from all sides and makes a binding decision on how to handle it.

Step 3: Foresee the Future

Where is the conflict headed? Will it get worse unless something is done? Is this something that will stay constant, or will it die down with time?

Learning where the situation is headed will help you weigh your options for resolving this conflict. You’ll need to consider how much of an impact each method would have on the outcome.

Step 4: Gather Other Related Information

What other things are going on around the conflict? Are you having personal problems with someone involved? Is there a lot of stress in your life that could be making the conflict more volatile?

If other factors are involved, it’s even more important to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible. Taking care of these problems will lower the chance of future conflicts arising between all parties.

Step 5: Discuss

Having a discussion with everyone involved is the best way to learn more about what they think is causing this conflict and what you can do to fix it. Start by talking to each person individually. Find out if their opinions of the situation match up or if they see the conflict differently than you.

When you come together for a group discussion, make sure everyone has an opportunity to talk about their opinions. Be sure to avoid any form of group think that could prevent anyone from speaking up, and be open to suggestions from everyone involved.

Step 6: Document

If nothing else works, consider documenting everything. Write down all the details of what’s going on in a journal or a spreadsheet and keep track of who said what.

Be sure to keep all your documentation out of the view of others, though. Even if you’re just writing things for yourself, people might still get offended by statements they don’t agree with.

Step 7: Get Help from Human Resources

If you’ve done everything you can on your own and conflict persists, consider taking it to Human Resources. This department can provide you with any resources or guidelines they have for resolving workplace conflict, and they may even be able to resolve the whole thing for you. Bear in mind that Human Resources is not there to “side” with anyone. Their goal is to help everyone fulfill their job requirements as best as possible.

When all else fails, it’s best to go with whatever works for the majority. Sometimes it won’t even be a solution that you’re happy with. Try not to let that discourage you from continuing to look for a resolution.

Peace talks might need to start off with an apology, so everyone can move forward together, and some compromises may leave both parties less than satisfied. But if the only way to end the conflict is for everyone involved to move on, that’s okay too.

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