There is a conflict brewing between two employees in my department. They are currently not speaking to each other which is causing tension and disrupting the work flow of my team. We are a small office and everyone needs to get along. Do you have any advice on how to resolve this?
Conflicts in the workplace are a very serious issue that must be acted upon quickly. Unchecked, they can harm the work environment, can lead to staff burnout or depression and can even result in a psychological harassment complaint against the employer.
As this conflict has been going on for a while, we will assume that the employees are incapable of working it out themselves, and therefore it is time for a third person or mediator to get involved. While this type of conflict is complex and solutions will vary depending on the cause, here are some basic steps you can take to help manage, mediate, and hopefully resolve the situation:
- Meet each employee separately to discuss the conflict and to let them express their side of the story. Depending on the cause and/or the seriousness of the conflict, it is generally not recommended to meet the employees together at this stage; it could do more harm than good.
- Try to be objective and do not let personal feelings for one employee interfere with your sound judgment. Try to see the problem from each of their perspectives.
- If the issue is work-related (ex. lack of clarity with regards to responsibilities, performance issues), try to resolve the issue if you are in a position to do so or see someone who can remedy the problem.
- Be clear as to what your expectations are as to their behavior (i.e. that they will act with professionalism, will ask and respond politely to each other’s questions, will not speak negatively of one another to co-workers, etc.) and discuss how their conflict has been affecting each other and the workplace.
- Re-familiarize yourself with the company’s policy on psychological harassment and the steps to take, particularly should one of the parties wish to make an official complaint.
- Refer them to your Employee Assistance Program, should one be available, where they can receive individual counseling to help resolve the conflict.
- If you feel they are able to discuss their issues in a civil and respectful manner you can meet both individuals together so that they can discuss their issues in a safe environment. It could be useful to set ground rules prior to this meeting to ensure that it is productive and respectful of both parties. Reiterate your expectations as to their behavior so that they are clear that the expectations apply to both of them.
- Follow-up on a timely basis, and take the necessary measures if one (or both) of the parties is still not respecting the expectations set forth.
If you do not feel that you will be able to properly handle the situation at any point, or if the conflict continues to escalate, do not hesitate to bring in a professional counselor or industrial psychologist who can coach you or who can act as an impartial mediator to the conflict.
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