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How to Gather Information Concerning Employee Conflicts

One of the keys to successful conflict resolution in the workplace is having all of the information you need. You may already know most of the details about how a workplace conflict escalated, or you may be new to the situation — either way, tactfully approach those impacted and see if you can get at what’s really going on.

  1. Know your intent.

    Before you begin any conversations with your employees, know what your intention for meeting is. Determine whether you’re on a fact-finding mission and going to HR for documentation, or you’re going to allow room for a confidential conversation. There’s nothing wrong with either course, but be sure to communicate your intention so the employees don’t feel blindsided after they open up.

    Try to resolve the conflict at the lowest possible level. Plan a resolution strategy that uses the least amount of escalation. Start with the employees before you bring in anyone else. Your intention should be for those involved to save face, for them to see that they can work out disagreements on their own, and for you to keep the cost (and exposure) of the conflict down.

    Although your intention may be to act as an objective facilitator, tell the employees upfront what your organization requires you to report so they can determine for themselves what they’re comfortable sharing with you.

  2. Sort out the players.

    Create a list for yourself that includes those directly involved, and then add any other staff members who may be impacted by the problem. As you meet with each person, ask whom he or she sees as key players in resolving the conflict. You may be surprised by how many names you get.

    When employees are in conflict, they often build armies as a means to strengthen their point of view. Make sure to check in with secondary players to determine their level of involvement and whether you think they’ll be valuable in resolving the issue.

  3. Consider the meeting place.

    Where you meet communicates a lot to other employees. If everyone sees one closed-door meeting after another, fear and stress can escalate. Your employees will be more focused on what’s happening behind the door than on their work. Similarly, publicly walking up to someone’s cubicle and starting a conversation where others can overhear can cause your staff to shut down and share very little, causing you to miss important information.

  4. Be consistent in your inquiries.

    When you begin approaching employees to gather information, be consistent with all parties. Communicate the same message to each employee and demonstrate that you’re not in this to take sides. Prepare a simple statement that explains the approach you’re taking to resolve the matter. End the discussion by letting both parties know what type of follow-up you’ve planned, even if it’s just to give the situation more thought.

  5. Ask productive questions.

    Keeping the questions open ended rather than asking questions that only require a yes or a no draws out more information. For example:

    What’s been happening for you in this situation?

    What have you tried to do to resolve the conflict?

    What do you think the next steps are to resolve this situation?

    Who do you believe needs to be involved to resolve it?

    Is there any additional support I can offer you?

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