Managing Employee Conflict

“Can’t we all just get along?!”

We spend about 30 percent of our lives with the people with whom we work;  and, if we are lucky, much of that is pleasant and productive. However,  every once in a while, two personalities just don’t mix and that can lead to conflict, even among professional adults.

But… that’s not always a management concern.  In fact, some conflict can lead to healthy competition, creativity and increased problem solving. Two rivaling employees can actually push each other to better their own performance, and therefore, benefit the organization as a whole. In the end, whether your employees like each other doesn’t really matter.  It certainly helps, but it’s not required.

If, however, a conflict between two employees affects productivity, then, as a manager it is most definitely your problem.  Left unchecked, bickering attitudes, whether it be through direct conflict or passive aggressive behavior, spread like a cancer, and most often affect the success of an entire group.

The initial reaction to separate the two opposing forces may not always be possible.  Smaller organizations and specific or overlapping  job responsibilities may make that unrealistic.  Another thought?  “Fire one… and the rest will fall in line,” may work as well; but, be a bit severe from a human resources standpoint.

Like it or not, you will have to address the conflict directly.  To defuse the interaction, and to also not allow one dominant personality to take over, try discussing the issue one on one with each employee. Let them be heard; but, keep it direct and behavior-based.  This is a work environment, not “Dr. Phil.”

By explaining how certain behaviors are affecting productivity, ask each employee how he or she can change their own behavior to deal with the issue. Once everyone has had a change to air their complaints, and they have taken the time to think about how they can effectively change, (not how the other person can), then you have a place to start.  Bring the employees back together and discuss the new opportunity in front of them. Both employees now have a common goal – remove the animosity and concentrate on a productive work environment – and with that commonality, maybe a chance to grow.

And, if things don’t go as planned?  Document. Document. Document.  Remember what we mentioned earlier?  “Fire one… and the rest will fall in line?”  That may be next.


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