April 13, 2022
Workplace Conflicts: 9 Steps for Handling Employees Who Don’t Get Along

Do you have employees? Then you’re bound to experience workplace conflicts at some point. The question is, how will you handle them to maintain company morale and productivity? 

All managers must understand the delicate art of conflict resolution in the workplace. You’ll need to take certain steps to understand both sides and the heart of the problem. And while we’re all adults and disagreements can often be resolved with good communication, some issues become much bigger. You should know when and how to intervene. 

So whether you’re in the midst of employee drama or simply preparing for future situations, follow these nine steps for handling employees who don’t get along.

1. Gain an objective understanding of the conflict

As a manager, you’ll need to approach workplace conflicts objectively. Avoid making assumptions and put your opinions aside. Gather the facts instead of listening to rumors, so you’re not biased.

First, ensure it’s not an equal employment opportunity (EEO) issue. If any discrimination, harassment, or threatening behavior occurs, you have an EEO matter on your hands and should take the necessary disciplinary action or terminate the employee.

If not, investigate further to determine the underlying cause of the conflict. You’ll be equipped to effectively diffuse tension and conduct mediation if necessary when you have a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

2. Listen to both sides

There are two sides to every story. As we mentioned above, listen to both sides of the workplace conflict while staying neutral and open-minded. Here’s how:

  1. Determine if it’s best to speak to the employees together or individually. 
  2. Give each employee a chance to speak uninterrupted and share their perspective and frustrations.
  3. Ask them to repeat the story once more so you can ask questions and fill in the gaps.

This process will make each employee feel heard, causing them to be calmer and more cooperative.

3. Get to the root of the problem

When you hear each employee’s emotional accounts of the conflict, it may be difficult to understand the core issue. You may need to dig further to determine the actual cause of the problem. 

Try asking them to calmly describe the facts of the issue in detail while leaving out as much of the emotional aspect as possible. This will help you understand the primary problem unclouded by each employee’s anger or frustration, after which you should have a better understanding of how to move forward.

4. Encourage employees to work it out

When employees aren’t getting along, you should first encourage them to communicate and work it out on their terms without your involvement to avoid escalating the issue. After all, we know how serious things typically are when the manager has to intervene.

Start by giving each team member tips and talking points to help them have a constructive conversation. You could even set aside time during the workday for them to meet. Often, conflict resolution in the workplace simply requires open, respectful communication. And if employees can fix things themselves, they’re likely to gain mutual respect.

5. Help them find common ground

If the workplace conflict seems never-ending, it’s probably time for a manager (you) to step in. Bring them into a joint meeting and ensure they understand it is a safe space. Next, ask each for ideas on how the conflict could be resolved so everyone can move on. 

Kindly but firmly remind each employee that regardless of their personal feelings toward each other, they do need to maintain a productive work environment and fulfill their job duties. As adults, they are responsible for ensuring their conflict does not affect the rest of the team.

6. Create an action plan

Next, it’s time to put a plan in place. While you should guide employees through this process, ensure they create the plan themselves, so you’re not simply solving the problem for them. Remind them to focus more on their jobs and set aside their differences.

The plan should include a timeline for visibly improved behavior. Set times for each employee to check in with you regarding their progress. Inform them of the consequences if things do not improve and outline those consequences in the document. Set follow-ups for yourself to verify that the workplace conflict is genuinely resolved — especially if you don’t hear from the employees first.

7. Use the employee handbook

If the problem persists or you want to ensure the action plan adheres to company policies, refer to the employee handbook. It could guide you toward a resolution and help you remain objective as you remind employees of the expectations that all team members are held to.

Disciplinary action may be the most effective solution when other attempts at employee conflict resolution fail — especially for those who continuously get into arguments with the same or different coworkers. The handbook should also guide your decisions in this area to ensure they are in line with company policy.

8. Provide the solution

Work to uncover the best solution(s) for both parties. We’re talking a real solution that restores productivity and morale — and prevents things from getting worse. This could mean: 

  • Allowing them to get to know each other: Put employees on a project together or hold team-building activities to build trust and common ground.
  • Giving them space: Place the employees onto different project teams, move their workspaces apart, or adjust their schedules to reduce interaction until things calm down.
  • Maximizing technology: Technology can be a powerful tool for ensuring fairness, especially for people in roles like customer service, sales, or other quota/commission-based positions.
  • Hire a third-party mediator: If tensions get high enough, you might consider hiring a facilitator to be the middle person between the conflicted employees. 

9. Document everything

Document all incidents and conversations related to workplace conflicts. This includes the action plan and all “coaching moments.” It doesn’t have to be a reprimand to be documented! Coaching and action plans should include both employees’ signatures and be saved in personnel files.

Documentation helps you monitor their behavior and guide them to success. It can also protect your company in the event of legal action from a disgruntled employee down the road. 

Handling employees who don’t get along is a tricky area requiring a great deal of finesse. But as long as managers remain neutral, calm, and astute, they can often help team members resolve their issues without severely escalating things. 

If you need guidance with workplace conflicts or mediation support, contact BlueLion today to learn how we can help at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com. Our human resources experts know how to navigate even the most delicate and unique situations!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.