Your employees are likely a diverse set of people. They come from different backgrounds. They have different interests and beliefs. Professionally, they have different skill sets and styles of working.

By Mike Kappel

Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee a perfectly harmonious workplace. Even if all your employees had perfect responses to behavioral interview questions, they are going to disagree. When people are in close proximity for extended periods of time, conflict is bound to happen.

4 steps to resolving conflict

Ideally, employees will resolve their own conflicts. But sometimes, you might need to step in to help defuse the situation, especially when things get heated or drawn out.

As the boss, you need to know how to walk employees through conflict resolution. For the times you need to mediate, use the four steps below.

1. Don’t shy away from the conflict

Even though no one likes conflict, it can be a good thing. Don’t avoid conflict. Instead, welcome it as an opportunity to improve your business. If your employees are fearful of the existing conflict, you can explain that approaching the conflict is great for building teamwork in the workplace.

Avoiding conflict can actually be a very bad thing. If your employees don’t address their conflict, it can become worse. The feuding employees might drag other people into the conflict or create a hostile working environment. If you notice this happening, you should intervene.

As a mediator, encourage employees to work out their problem. Give them suggestions of things to discuss on their own. Or, set up a time where you all meet together. The first step of solving the conflict is to get everyone to acknowledge and confront it.

2. Open communication among all parties

When it comes to conflict, communication is key. Clear, open communication ensures that everyone understands what is happening, how people are feeling, and what needs to be done. Focusing on interdepartmental communication is especially important as there can sometimes be added walls between departments.  

When you and the employees set up a time to meet, make sure there is plenty of time to talk. You shouldn’t have to rush through the conversation. Ideally, there shouldn’t be anything right after the discussion, such as another meeting or the end of a shift. If this is not possible, try to free up an ample block of time.

During the conversation, everyone should have an equal chance to talk. One person should not control the conversation. If you notice someone does start controlling the conversation, step in and give the other person a chance to talk.

As the employees talk about their feelings and experiences, have them give examples. Ask them to talk about specific situations that demonstrate what they are saying. These examples will improve understanding for the other employee.

Employees should not attack or blame each other during the conversation. If this begins to happen, address it. Name calling and accusations may only fuel the conflict.

3. Encourage careful listening

Sitting down and talking about the conflict only works if everyone listens. If you notice that an employee is not giving full attention to their co-worker, address the disrespectful behavior.  

Limit distractions during the discussion. Employees shouldn’t take calls, answer emails, work on a computer, or even doodle.

Employees should not interrupt each other during the conversation. If an employee keeps interrupting, ask them to stop. Every time they do it, make them aware of their actions and encourage the other employee to continue speaking.

If you don’t understand what an employee is saying, ask follow-up questions to help clarify.  Encourage employees to ask their own questions when they are confused. You and the employees can also rephrase and repeat what was just said to make sure you understand what the employee was trying to say.

4. Search for common ground

During the conversation, search for points of agreement. Finding even a little bit of agreement can encourage collaboration, reduce tension, and generate positivity.

The common ground gives the employees something to rally around. It gives hope that they can get along. The employees might even use the common ground to build a better relationship after the conflict is over.  

Look for common things the employees said, even if they are small. For example, they might have common goals or interests.  

Mike Kappel is a serial entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of Patriot Software Company, and its subsidiaries. Patriot Software, LLC is a developer of online payroll and accounting software for U.S. small-business owners. Connect on Twitter: @PatriotSoftware.