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Step-by-Step Conflict Resolution


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Conflict resolution is a primary human resources function in nearly every organization. While this task is rarely an HR professional’s favorite to tackle, conflict resolution is necessary for a positive work culture, improved productivity, risk management, and limited turnover. The good news (or the bad news) is that the outcome of conflict resolution is largely based on the mediator, who is often the HR professional. The HR professional has a responsibility to conduct a productive, meaningful conversation, keeping both employees on task and producing results that satisfy each party.

Even with the most difficult personalities, conflict resolution doesn’t have to be hard. Following these steps can eliminate the chaos and transform conflict resolution into a calculated science.

Choose a Private, Neutral Setting

Conflict resolution should never be done in front of other employees, clients, or guests. Selecting a private, netural location such as a private meeting room, a human resources office, or a small conference room prevents humiliation and promotes honest conversation.

Always Schedule in Advance

When employees are caught off guard, they tend to show increased defensiveness, anger, and frustration. Always schedule a conflict resolution meeting in advance, and whenever suitable, tell both parties why the meeting has been scheduled. This prevents the defensiveness and other negative responses that come from a surprise attack and allows employees to gather their thoughts in advance.

If numerous employees are having interpersonal issues with the same person, schedule multiple one-on-one meetings.

Define Clear Goals

Once the meeting has started, the HR professional’s first order of business is to define goals for the meeting. Defining goals establishes purpose for the meeting, which is vital for a meaningful encounter. Without established and clear purpose, conflict resolution often evolves into a never-ending merry-go-round of insults and accusations. Some possible goals for a conflict resolution meeting include:

  • To establish a plan for completing a project together despite differences
  • To overcome differences to better provide for our clients, guests, patrons, or patients
  • To complete specific tasks that have been a point of conflict, such as scheduling vacations, defining roles, or making decisions

Overcoming differences between employees ultimately provides a more positive experience for clients, guests, patrons, or patients, so the second goal should be included in nearly every conflict resolution meeting. It draws their attention to the bigger picture and provides clear direction for the meeting.

Give Each Party an Opportunity to Share

Provide each person time to share their viewpoint and concerns, following basic ground rules:

  • Conversation must be respectful at all times
  • Each party speaks in turn only
  • Yelling, swearing, name calling, or any other display of disrespect or aggression will end the meeting immediately and result in discipline.
  • Conversation should stay on task, addressing specific situations that have brought issue and not personal character

Limit this time to 5 minutes each and don’t allow response following statements. One person speaks, the other speaks, and then the meeting moves forward.

Brainstorm Solutions

While most employees who have a tense working relationship will never agree on every point, focusing on solutions can encourage them to look past disagreements to perform to their full potential. Take ample time to discuss solutions, and request ideas for resolution from each party. If either employee is quick to shoot down ideas, request a better suggestion.

Establish a Plan

Establish a clear plan going forward. Which employee will take on which responsibilities and when? All parties should know the plan and their specific role in it when the meeting is concluded.

Conflict resolution doesn’t have to be hard; stick to the steps, remove personal feelings, and work to accomplish defined goals and and stay on task, and conflict resolution will no longer be laden with dread.

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