Handling workplace disputes is a difficult but essential part of being a manager. Mediating conflict probably isn’t the reason you became a leader, but disputes will happen, so it’s best to be prepared. Luckily, there are measures you can take to prevent conflict, so here are five ways to stop employee disputes before they even begin.
1. Cultivate a Positive Atmosphere
This may sound simple, and it is. If a work environment already lends itself to stress or toxic behavior, tensions are already running high. This means that even the tiniest altercation can set someone off, blowing a small problem way out of proportion. On the other hand, if a work environment is calming, with ample resources to manage stress and cultivate peace, employees may be more open-minded and less defensive when facing conflict.
In the days of remote work, you can still create a positive atmosphere even if there’s no physical meeting space. Allowing employees a healthy work-life balance and providing them support and respect are great ways to create a positive remote work environment.
2. Keep Lines of Communication Open
You certainly don’t want employees to silently hold onto issues. This just allows the problem to fester and grow, with no resolution in sight. This can easily happen when employees don’t feel comfortable turning to a superior for help. If they worry they’ll be penalized for bringing forward a complaint, they’ll keep it to themselves, or perhaps even talk about it with colleagues. This tends to create mountains out of molehills, so it’s important to let them know that the lines of communication are open long before an issue arises. If they feel comfortable coming to you in times of peace, they’ll be more likely to turn to you when they have a problem.
3. Create a Formal Process for Filing Complaints
Another reason disputes tend to get blown out of proportion is that they’re all dealt with differently. By establishing a clear process for filing a complaint, you are leveling the playing field, ensuring that every grievance gets fair and equal treatment. As a company grows, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation throughout the chain of command. Create an easy, formal process to quell disputes before they develop into something larger.
4. Acknowledge Personality Types
This one can be tricky, but it’s worth looking into. While you obviously want your team to work together, there may be people who just simply butt heads because of their personality type, leadership style or work habits. This doesn’t mean they’re not both great employees, but it might behoove you to notice these things and separate them if possible. This may mean separating them physically, as in not working in close proximity, or it may mean that they don’t work on the same projects or report to the same superior. You don’t want to let conflicting personalities hinder the great work of which these employees are capable.
5. Overlook All Biases
This one is crucial for anyone in a leadership position. It’s easy to be blind to one’s own biases, but when it comes to workplace harmony, bias has no place. If bias infiltrates our judgment, we overlook behavior that may be problematic. When those behaviors then cause a dispute, our biases are put on clear display for everyone to see. If your biases become too difficult to overlook, consider bringing in an unbiased, third party to resolve the dispute.
Workplace disputes are inevitable but don’t wait until they happen to deal with them. Create a positive work environment with clear communication and a set process for filing complaints and resolving disputes, and enjoy a happier workplace as a result.