At work, as with life in general, there are times when people do not get along, resulting in ongoing conflict. The causes can be differing personalities, opinions, backgrounds, underlying resentments from situations past or one employee simply presses another’s buttons. Employees who are at constantly at odds with each other can have a very negative effect on your business, resulting in gossip, a toxic atmosphere, lost productivity and even legal problems.
Talk to them about it
The first step is to talk to the employees about the issue between them. Be patient and listen to both sides. Conduct these meetings with each employee individually. Emotions are often running high and placing employees in a room together to hash it out most often backfires and creates larger problems.
When meeting with the employees, ensure that your discussion addresses whether there are underlying issues such as discrimination, harassment, bullying or workplace violence involved. If these issues are at play, the steps taken to address the problem go beyond the steps in this article so consult with your company human resources professional or an outside consultant for assistance. If your company does not have policies in place for reporting instances of the above, please have the employee handbook updated right away to include these policies and reporting procedures.
Ask if they can work it out on their own
As you listen to each employee and uncover the root of the problem, determine if they are willing to try to work it out. Ask what would resolve the issue for them. Personality conflicts cannot always be solved, so ask if the employee is willing to "go along to get along". Remind employees that everyone does not always have to agree, but that they do need to work together professionally. If your company has a Code of Conduct or Professionalism policy, now is the time to give each employee a refresher and if not, now is the time to institute these policies.
Determine if mediation is appropriate
Meditation may not be appropriate for personality conflicts but can be used to settle actual disputes. If there is an issue between the employees for which mediation may be appropriate, consider whether the time and expense is worth it and can likely solve the problem. Gain agreement from each employee and use a trained mediator.
Offer conflict management and diversity training to the entire staff
The tendency for us to shy away from conflict is entirely normal. Humans are programmed to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Conflict results in emotional pain when we aren’t trained to handle it (and even when we are). Conflict management training is a must for all workplaces. Providing your employees the tools to manage conflict situations on their own, such as emotional intelligence skills and how to prepare for a conflict conversation, will increase their confidence and free up management’s time to take care of other issues.
Additionally, when employees have a solid understanding of our diverse workforce and how to be accepting of other’s differences, fewer conflicts are present in the workplace. Effective diversity training raises awareness of implicit and unconscious bias, therefore increasing the likelihood of self-regulation when biases arise.
Last but definitely not least, determine if corrective action is warranted
If you have engaged in all of the above actions and the situation continues to persist, the next step is to make it clear to the employees that if they are unable to conduct themselves professionally in the workplace, they will not be able to continue working for the company.
If the company handbook contains a code of conduct and/or a professionalism policy this would likely be the basis for your corrective action. However, even in the absence of written policies, you can make your expectations clear by utilizing a disciplinary or corrective action form stating the specific conduct expected and the consequences to the employee if the expectations are not met. Review the expectations with the employee along with a supervisory witness and have everyone sign the form for storage in the employee’s personnel file. Oftentimes, when all other efforts have failed, this step will be the wake-up call the employees need.
Even if you don’t have to take this step, do make sure that you document the situation and steps taken to address it along the way and place that document in each employee’s file. Memories fade quickly and if a situation arises in the future, you will have notes to help you deal with it appropriately.