Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies
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Professional mediators hear a lot of excuses for managerial inaction when it comes to employee conflicts. If you find yourself repeating one of these statements, find the resources you need, hone your coaching skills, have a productive conversation with a colleague, or try a new approach to an old problem.

  • “I don’t really know how.” Managers — especially new managers — tend to be at a loss the first time a conflict arises and it doesn’t just sort itself out. Finding the right language and the right techniques to use at the right time takes finesse.

  • “I don’t want to open a can of worms.” You may feel that if you address a conflict, your suspicions about bad behavior and work performance will be proven true, and you’ll have to deal with it — all of it. Consider the impact on others (and the company) if you sit back and do nothing.

  • “I haven’t been successful before.” Losing hope and a willingness to commit to problem solving are common responses when a manager feels that his efforts are all for nothing. If previous attempts at resolution haven’t gone well, others may have lost trust in your abilities. Trying something new may be exactly what’s needed.

  • “Problem? What problem?” While some managers see problems and “wish” them away, others like to stay completely in the dark. Keep an eye on how your team interacts, the language choices they make, how they speak to you about one another, and whether specific individuals work a little too hard at not working together.

    Addressing smaller issues at the onset is a lot easier than facing larger problems later on.

  • “I don’t know where to start.” Taking the time to assess a situation and make a plan burns up energy and attention. It’s smart to sit back and consider your next steps instead of jumping into a conflict willy-nilly, but inaction doesn’t get you any closer to resolution. Develop a plan with clear goals in mind, and get whatever help you need to put it into action.

  • “It’s not my business.” You may think that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Not true. If it affects the business, it is your business.

  • “I’m not the baby-sitter.” People have different managerial styles, and some like to take a more hands-off approach. These managers go into the workplace with the philosophy that their employees are adults and they should be able to resolve differences like adults. Changing your perspective from “babysitting” to “mentoring” gives you an opportunity to hone your leadership abilities.

  • “I have real work to do.” Addressing personnel issues is an important part of being an effective manager. In fact, it may be one of the first questions asked of you in your next job interview. Have something positive to say about your abilities in this area.

  • “I don’t want to have to fire anyone.” Just because two employees aren’t getting along doesn’t mean the only answer is to fire one of them. You have plenty of other options, and the more you work with each of them to brainstorm solutions, the more you expand your choices.

  • “I don’t want to look bad.” Being overly concerned about being seen as an ineffective or weak manager who can’t handle his people doesn’t help you create a reputation as a problem solver. Co-workers see it, even if you think you’re doing a good job of masking the problems. Simply put, ignoring conflicts on your team affects your reputation in a negative way.

About This Article

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Vivian Scott is a Certified Mediator in private practice and a retired Microsoft marketing manager. She is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and volunteers as a mediator at the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties.

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