By Amanda Curatore

People are the core of your business. When people work with and interact with other people, clashes and conflict can often arise. How many times have you had a personality clash in your workplace? I would bet that almost everyday you are dealing with a conflict on some level. I am not going to lie, there is no magic trick to make conflict in your workplace disappear forever, because the reality of the situation is, that when you have people working with other people conflict is inevitable. So, this article provides useful mechanisms and strategies you should follow the next time conflict arises in your workplace.

When considering how to deal with workplace conflict, it is important to ensure that your business has a clear and thorough grievance policy. This is a policy which outlines how employees should report a grievance they may have and steps the business (essentially you) will take to resolve the dispute.

Step 1:

Your grievance policy should outline that the very first step (if appropriate) should be that the parties involved in the dispute attempt to resolve the matter between themselves. This allows employees to take responsibility for their actions and attempt to resolve the matter amicably. More often than not, employees may have a conflict between each other steaming from either a misunderstanding of instructions or a misinterpretation of another’s tone/and or actions. If this is simply raised between the parties at their own initiative, it is likely that the dispute will be resolved quickly without the need of formalising the process.

Step 2:

If the employee is unable to resolve the grievance directly with the parties involved, or it is inappropriate to do so, the employee should refer the grievance to management, whether that is you personally or someone else in the business. The employee will need to advise management of all of the details of their concern. It is now managements responsibility to deal with the complaint and come to a resolution. One way management might attempt to resolve the issue is by setting up a mediation between the parties. This gives the individuals an opportunity to air their grievances out loud in a safe forum where management can step in to settle things down should the conversation get out of hand. This allows the parties to confront the issue objectively and management can steer the discussion by asking leading questions such as “how do we feel about that?”, “what can we do to move forward?” The purpose of mediation is to find a way to implement a solution which will allow both parties to feel that the issue has been resolved and let them get back to work.

Step 3:

If the conflict has been unable to be resolved through an informal mediation between the parties, it may be appropriate to escalate the matter further and conduct an investigation. An investigation should be conducted by either your businesses HR department or an independent 3rd party such as an external consultant. The purpose of the investigation is to get to the bottom of the issue and determine on the balance of probabilities whether the allegations put forward have been substantiated or not. The investigator should also provide your business with a report outlining the findings as well as suggested recommendations (for example, sending your employee to a training session on appropriate workplace behaviour).

Once you receive the findings of the investigation, it is open to you to make a decision on what the appropriate outcome need be to ensure both parties can move on from the issue and continue to work positively and harmoniously. This decision may result in disciplinary action or potential termination (in serious cases).

Some important points to remember when dealing with workplace conflicts include:

  1. understanding the situation,
  2. acknowledging the problem,
  3. taking the time to deal with the issue (don’t rush it),
  4. focus on the problem and not the individual, using open communication, and
  5. establishing guidelines for resolution and acting decisively.

No two conflicts will be the same which means no two outcomes will be the same. The way in which a conflict will be dealt with depends very much on a case by case basis but, following the guidelines above you should be on the right path to settle any dispute you are presented with.

Amanda Curatore is a qualified senior workplace relations consultant at FCB Group and HR Assured, where she provides daily advice and support to businesses of all sizes on HR issues ranging from the simple to the absurdly complex.