Office Fireworks: 5 Strategies to Defuse Employee Conflict

No matter how small or large your office team may be, people and their ideas can clash. When they do, the only guaranteed losers are team spirit and office morale.

If you’re in a leadership position, consider these conflict management strategies — before an employee conflict turns into full-blown office fireworks:

1. Keep things cool with a private meeting. When it’s time to intervene in an employee conflict, a private meeting may be the way to go. By acting as a calm mediator, you’ll give the embattled parties a chance to share their perspectives in private instead of making a public scene. This change alone may lead to a quick resolution, because the coworkers can communicate in a more candid way.

2. Put things into perspective. Office disagreements are often over small details. But it can be hard to see that in the heat of the moment. A missed deadline can seem like the end of the world when, in reality, the project timeline included built-in wiggle room. Help remind staff of the big picture.

3. Remind employees that working together is part of the job. Without being threatening or presenting ultimatums, make it known to employees that working individually isn’t enough. There are few jobs, if any, that don’t rely on the help from other team members. Soft skills like teamwork and relationship building are just as important to their success.

4. Remain objective and document everything. No matter what employee conflict arises, you have to take the high road — which means never taking sides or showing favoritism. If the final outcome can be perceived as one person winning and the other losing, you’ve kicked the root of the problem down the road. Whenever a conflict is serious, document all the details, including both sides’ stories, so you have a record to rely on later, if necessary.

5. Know when to stay out of it. Before you dive in to save the day, choose your battles. Small office conflicts often resolve themselves without any collateral damage. If you jump into every situation, people will turn to you whenever a problem arises and won’t learn how to deal with issues themselves. Although employee conflict management is part of your job, it shouldn’t take over your work life.

Each example of employee conflict is unique. But having a clear strategy ahead of time is always helpful and can lead to a quicker resolution. Once you’ve diffused the latest situation, consider team-building activities to help avoid office fireworks in the future.