6 Tips For Better Conflict Resolution

Smoothing over tension between employees will help improve productivity.


Rare is the workplace that does not have at least some employee feuding. Think about the diversity of staff who spend hours on end with each other. Offices can harbor a wide range of personal tension, from power struggles to resentment over workloads.

While human resource departments can’t prevent tension in the workplace, they can take calculated, proactive measures to snuff out the conflicts that do arise. Unresolved conflicts can cause miscommunication, missed deadlines, and undo emotional stress.

Here are six common conflicts and tips for how to resolve them.

Power Struggles

Power imbalance often breeds anger and resentment. Employees working toward the same goals may often find they want to complete the same tasks and have the same control over them. These such conflicts reveal a dedicated workforce, but they can cause bitter feelings.

To mediate, first listen to how employees feel about the situation then encourage them to think of the future. Ask them to describe the type of environment they’d see if their conflict were resolved. Ask what they’d envision the other person doing differently and what they’d envision themselves doing differently. This helps them keep the focus future-oriented and work toward a sustainable solution.

Romantic Clashes

Sometimes employees’ relationships become more than platonic and their personal feuds may spill over into the workplace. What should you do when you know the glares between co-workers who are a couple are caused by their relationship? Ignore it. If your credit union allows interoffice dating, it must accept some tension between dating workers and should leave the conflict resolution to the couple.

But when workers’ personal relationships interfere with their productivity or makes employees uncomfortable, it’s likely time to intervene. Explain how their behavior toward each other is affecting their co-workers and set clear consequences for continuing romantic feuds.

Silent Bullies

Also known as the “passive aggressive” type, silent bullies are very toxic to a work environment. They may appear to be friendly, but their behavior toward their peers is not. They talk behind others’ backs, they give people the silent treatment, and they try to put others’ mistakes in the spotlight. They strive to be all-knowing by demeaning others and are playing power games by carefully tracking winners and losers. Silent bullies should be fired – no matter how productive they are. Strive for a congenial, productive workforce instead.

Workload Resentment

When an employee feels like they are working harder than their peers but not being recognized or compensated fairly, they may resent their more easy-going co-workers. Similarly, the more easy-going employee may resent their diligent co-worker for setting a work standard that’s too high for them.

Make sure employees are not waiting around for the other to change. Do not talk to these employees individually. Instead, have a joint meeting to get on the same page about workplace expectations. Make sure your job descriptions and policy for employee assessments are clear.

Exclusive Cliques

An office can be just as full of cliques as a high school. It’s just human nature to want to be a part of a group. But while small groups of friends empower each other, they can also disempower employees who aren’t included. Like the silent bully, cliques can be dangerously toxic to a workplace.

Encourage your employees to work collaboratively but not to exclude others by forming alliances. Educate them on the difference between smart socializing for enjoyment and desperately trying to befriend people for gossip. Supervisors should avoid joining a clique of their subordinates to avoid the appearance of favoritism, even if it results in “loneliness at the top,” says a recent L.A. Times article on workforce diversity.

Personality Clashes

Don’t believe in this term. Avoid chalking conflicts up to “personality clashes” when there’s actually another underlying issue. Which ideas do employees differ on? What actions do they take that offend each other? How are they communicating with each other? Get to the bottom of the true difference, and help employees resolve that instead.


June 5, 2012

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  • More on conflict resolution: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eq8_conflict_resolution.htm
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