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November 24, 2014

How to Resolve Workplace Conflicts

employee_conflictHandling conflict is an excellent skill for HR professionals to have in their HR toolkit. According to research, most employees who take FMLA for stress and work-related conflict are off the job approximately 21 days. In addition, managers spend about 35% of their time dealing with workplace conflicts. That is a lot of wasted productivity!

Conflict resolution is the process of developing strategies for resolving issues and rebuilding effective working relationships. Interventions may be conducted by a supervisor, manager, or an HR professional or consultant. The nature of the conflict will determine who will be most effective in resolving the issue. 

Human Resource’s role in conflict resolution is to accept it as your responsibility and make sure the conflict is addressed. Ensure that a resolution is found and is sustainable. 

How to resolve workplace conflicts?

  • Don’t ignore or avoid it.
  • Deal with it early and locally. Don’t pass it to someone else.
  • Listen to both sides and understand exactly what is going on.
  • If necessary seek assistance solving conflict, such as a professional mediator.
  • Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of being sued.

When dealing with two employees in conflict, I recommend starting the conversation by restating the problem to make sure you understand the situation from both perspectives. Then listen to the responses without interruption, regardless of whether you agree. Next you should paraphrase or summarize what you heard to make sure that you have an accurate understanding of where both employees are coming from, and they know that you heard them. This creates an informal structure of respect for the rest of the conversation. It also narrows the possibility of misinformation and misunderstandings. Then ask each party for their thoughts on how to resolve the situation. This is a brainstorming session and no one should be criticized for the solutions offered.

After a solution has been reached, advise both parties that you will document the solution in writing and send copies to both of them. They should have the opportunity to make revisions as necessary. Set an agreed upon timeline to follow up and make sure things are working as planned. If this conflict impacted their job performance, you will want to file a copy of the signed agreed upon solution in their respective personnel files.

Most leaders aren’t good at handling conflict. HR professionals should train their leadership on when to intervene, and how to handle conflicts among employees.

Here are some warning signs when your leaders may need to intervene:

  •  Increased employee absences
  •  A noticeable reduction in productivity
  •  Obvious increase stress levels in the department
If your employees begin exhibiting these behaviors, it’s time to intervene and mediate.

When conflicts are handled correctly, they can lead to better decision-making, improved processes, and better relationships among teams.


You can also create a positive environment by implementing the following:

  •  Value diversity and train employees to confront differences respectfully.
  • Empower employees to feel confident and competent.
  • Seek mutual benefits and encourage employees to unite behind cooperative goals.
  • Reward success and learn from mistakes.
  • Don’t punish employees for making active mistakes.

In order to develop a conflict free workplace, you should have strong policies on conduct and behavior in the workplace, and communicate those policies. Also, develop and implement clear operating procedures. Ensure that you have clear job descriptions. Encourage feedback and learn from it.

The most important thing you can do to resolve workplace conflict is to tackle conflicts and disputes as soon as they arise.



Cynthia Thompson, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Cynthia Y. Thompson is Principal and Founder of The Thompson HR Firm, a human resources consulting company in Memphis, TN. She is a senior human resources executive with more than twenty years of human resources experience concentrated in publicly traded companies. She is also the Publisher/Editor of HR Professionals...

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