Attracting the best talent to your organization involves creating and maintaining a great human resources (HR) reputation. Companies like Google show that treating employees well allows an organization to retain the industry’s best talent. At the same time, maintaining a great HR reputation also depends on handling conflict in the workplace in a respectful and effective manner. When HR departments do not handle conflict well, their actions can quickly lead to bad press, not to mention negative word-of-mouth that discourages other professionals from accepting a job at your company.
Your employees should feel like you have their back, which becomes complicated when two or more of them have a conflict and each party thinks they’re right. Conflict resolution remains one of the most essential skills for an HR professional. The following tips can help you find conflict solutions that respect each person’s position and that represent the fairest outcome possible.
1. Create an environment of open communication. One of the most essential parts of conflict resolution happens before any conflict arises. This step involves creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable bringing a conflict to HR. When people feel that they can’t share their grievances, they’ll become increasingly irritated and may eventually snap. However, if they know they can come to you with their concerns, you have the opportunity to stop the problem before it balloons into a major issue. Always keep your door open and listen in earnestness when an employee comes to you with a problem. Beyond just listening, be sure that you thoroughly understand the employee’s situation.
2. Acknowledge that conflict exists and that the situation is difficult. Too often, HR professionals deal with conflict by ignoring it or trying to downplay its seriousness. Rather than resolving the conflict, this makes employees feel disregarded and can build resentment. Approach the situation with openness and honesty and be sure that you understand the various points of view contributing to the problem. Encourage honest, but respectful, communication and recognize how difficult this task can be.
3. Allow employees to express and explore their emotions. If you focus solely on the facts of the situation, you may ignore the emotions that underlie the conflict. Provide a space for employees to express all of their emotions, from anger to disappointment and sadness. Often, people feel better simply by venting these emotions and they can then approach the problem with a level head. This should be done in a safe, private safe that guarantees the confidentiality of the employee’s words.
4. Spend some time identifying each person’s needs. At the most basic level, conflict arises when needs go unmet. To identify needs, begin by defining the problem. Is the issue a result of different personality types or work styles? Does the issue stem from another party who is not directly involved in the situation? What is at stake for everyone involved? When you answer these questions with each employee, you can get a better idea of his or her needs. In addition, by focusing on needs, you avoid the question of “right or wrong” and instead focus on resolution. A needs-based approach leads more readily to a win-win solution.
5. Encourage smaller agreements between the parties involved. When people are at odds, they often feel as though there’s an essential disconnect between themselves and the other person. However, uncovering some mutual ground can foster a small sense of connection that encourages resolution of the larger problem. At the most basic level, the individuals involved should be able to agree that there is a conflict, and they should all agree to the same method of figuring out a resolution. You can also encourage connection by showing how all parties may share the same fears, such as ruining a professional relationship. In addition, if you can get each person to agree on a small change toward a larger resolution, this opens the door to broader communication.
6. Suggest solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Finding a solution that all parties agree upon is no easy task. To start, you should propose a variety of suggestions that address each person’s needs, taking care not to ignore anyone. These proposals don’t have to be thoroughly thought out, because they’re mostly meant to jumpstart communication and encourage the people involved to offer their own solutions. When it seems that an agreement is being reached, it is your job to ensure that everyone truly accepts the decision. If someone is silent, that person is likely being passively resistant and may not ultimately comply with the decision.
7. Create a system for following up on the resolution. At the time of resolution, set a date for following up with the parties involved to ensure that the resolution is still acceptable. In general, this meeting should be held a couple of weeks in the future. In the meantime, be sure that everyone knows they can come to you with any concerns should another issue arise. In a more general sense, you should also have a protocol for when conflicts seem unresolvable. This protocol may involve bringing in a third-party mediator, whether a company ombudsman or someone from a different organization altogether. The protocol may also involve professional coaching or even disciplinary action.