Confronting conflict: How to deal with difficult employee disputes 

Conflict is a part of every relationship — even the relationships in your workplace. But when employees are involved in a difficult dispute, it can drag down productivity, morale, and your bottom line. 

As a leader, there’s no doubt you’ll be faced with these situations from time to time. Fortunately, with the right tools and tactics, you can smooth it over quickly and get back to running a happy, drama-free team. 

Determine the nature and severity of the situation 

Understand the nature and cause of the conflict. Is it a case of miscommunication, personality clash, or competition? Or, is it something more serious like harassment or discrimination? 

If it’s more serious, refer to your existing policies on how to address the issue. If you don’t have a policy, consider asking an HR expert to help build one that keeps you compliant with state and federal laws. 

Tip: Homebase HR Pro can help with this. You can speak live with our team of experts who will answer your toughest HR questions, review your policies, and help create new ones. 

Let your employees handle it

In situations involving miscommunication, personality clashes, and competition, it may be best to allow your team members to resolve the conflict without intervention. After all, when a manager engages in minor conflicts, it can add fuel to a fire that may well have gone out on its own. 

Let your employees know that you value their employment and understand their feelings. Then, redirect the conversation by saying that you believe in them and their ability to handle the personal conflict. Oftentimes, what employees are really seeking is validation of their feelings. And having them address the issue head-on can often clear up any misunderstanding. 

Know when to step in

If a workplace conflict can’t be resolved by the employees themselves, you may find that you need to jump in and take action. 

A few issues that might require management intervention include: 

  • Bullying
  • Explicit, threatening, or aggressive language 
  • Conflict that consistently disrupts productivity or impacts morale 
  • Insulting or disrespectful behavior 
  • Allegations of discrimination or harassment 

Act as a mediator 

Sit both employees down together and ask them to answer questions in front of each other. This encourages a more honest exchange with less exaggeration. 

Oftentimes, employees realize they’re actually working toward the same goal once they’ve hashed out their issues in a productive manner. They just have different opinions on the issue at hand. Once you’ve given them a way to identify the problem, it’s much easier to find a solution. 

Find a solution

Once you’ve identified and discussed the issue at hand, work with the employees to collectively brainstorm solutions. Welcome all ideas and discuss each in a positive way. 

It can help to make a pros and cons list for each option and find a scenario both parties can agree to move forward with. If they can’t come to an agreed-upon conclusion, encourage them to commit to the option you think is best. 

Document the incident 

Keep track of all workplace conflict details, including conversations, disciplinary actions, and any other information related to the issue. Include the facts and the resolution that the employees eventually agreed to so you can monitor behavior moving forward and keep a pulse on potentially toxic team members. 

It’s also important to document any incident in case an employee decides to file a complaint on your business over the matter. 

Follow up 

After the employees reach a resolution, meet with them after a few days or weeks to discuss how the solution is going. Make sure there aren’t any lingering issues. And if there are, work quickly to address them. 

If you need a little extra backup on what to do when employees don’t get along, Homebase can help. Our team of HR experts are available to answer any questions you may have and assist you in writing new policies for when issues arise. 


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