I'm sure you spend a lot of time dealing with conflicts between employees at your company. Sometimes I think I should have gotten a masters in psychology, rather than a law degree. Those who earned an MBA anticipating a career as an entrepreneur probably never fathomed the time and energy that would go into managing the varied personalities on a team.
Over the years, I've tried different methods to resolve conflicts between employees, including acting as an arbiter, staying out of the situation completely, or even taking one side. But, along the way, I realized that what holds people back in business is the same thing that holds them back in personal relationships: We're all afraid to talk.
We seem to do everything we can to avoid conflict and the person we're conflicted with. What results? Unresolved issues, misperceptions about another person's intentions, escalated negativity, and an overall lack of progress. So my simple solution when you are engaged in a conflict or managing the conflict between others: Talk.
Here are five techniques to make sure a conversation happens as soon as possible.
Realize everyone's good intentions.
Regardless of the issue and how you deal with it, I believe that most people are coming from a position of sincerity and true belief. They're not trying to cause trouble. They simply believe in their position.
Resist the urge to solve the problem.
It's easy to want to take sides to move a decision along. Take the time to listen to the complaints. I tell my folks not to bring me an issue with another employee until they tell me they have already talked to that person and tried to work it out independently.
Encourage in-person conversations.
The only way to resolve an issue permanently is through a real, open conversation, ideally face to face. No email, no social media, no texting. Whether live or over the phone, you need a scenario in which you can listen for voice tone, or watch for body language.
If you have to, take a side.
If two people have already talked and still have yet to resolve the conflict (which, in my experience, happens rarely), offer to help resolve the situation by getting everyone to the table at the same time. Give both sides a chance to be heard, and only then make your decision.
Evangelize your philosophy about conflict.
People love to hear themselves talk about others and be "in the know" about co-workers' complaints. It is a natural response and emotion, but it's also a colossal waste of time. Make sure your message and methodology for dealing with conflict--if you have a problem with someone, stop, think, talk, and resolve--cascades to all levels of the organization.