As a business leader, conflict resolution is part of your job description. When people work closely together for 40 hours a week, conflict and clashing opinions are inevitable. While it's never fun to get involved, ignoring problems will only cause them to escalate. Instead, try to mitigate office disagreements head on using smart mediation strategies.
Five entrepreneurs offer advice on how to deal with conflict in the workplace, based on the tried-and-true tactics they have used to resolve office disputes before they've spiraled out of control.
Meet with those involved separately, then together.
There are two sides to every story, and it's important to understand each before invoking a solution. This tactic has worked wonders for Volkan Okay Yazici, the owner and president of Stonexchange, a natural stone flooring and accessories company.
"Meet with each of the individual parties involved in the conflict and try to understand the issue from everyone's perspective. Then draft a few possible solutions or compromises to the problem and convene with all those involved," he says. "Initiate a conversation to implement whatever is decided. Make sure everybody understands that no one will get everything they want."
Get an objective opinion from a moderator.
When you need an impartial perspective, bring in a moderator with no stake in the situation. Blair Thomas, co-founder of First American Merchant, a business loan and payment processing company, considers this to be one of the fastest and easiest ways to solve a problem.
"It's simple, but probably one of the most effective solutions. Find an objective, level-headed person who can help you moderate the issue," says Thomas. "A good moderator can quickly de-escalate the situation and act as an intermediary who allows both sides to discuss their grievances and find quick, amicable resolutions to serious problems."
Ask them to take a day off to cool down.
"Sometimes conflict is born from stress, extended periods of overwork or simply too much exposure to one another," says Dave Nevogt, the co-founder and CMO of Hubstaff, a time-tracking software platform for remote teams. His team works remotely, but he still understands the importance of taking some time off when a heated conflict arises.
"If an attitude problem arises or if there's a fight, it's best for both parties to take a day to calm down and relax," he says. "We can discuss what happened the next day and then figure out next steps."
Take the conversation to a coffee shop.
In the midst of a conflict, emotions can run high, but remember that the involved parties probably feel embarrassed at the thought of how their coworkers might perceive the situation. That's why Manick Bhan, the CEO and CTO of ticket-comparison search engine company Rukkus, moves conflict resolution away from the office (and out of earshot).
"The first thing you should do is take whoever is involved in the situation and remove them from the office space. I'm not talking about going to the boss's office; that will just disrupt the office vibe even more," says Bhan. "Go to a conference room on the opposite side of the building, or even a coffee shop. This will allow everyone to cool off during the walk, and not be embarrassed by coworkers listening in."
Keep communication channels open from day one.
Fostering a communicative culture in the office can stop conflict before it begins. Nathalie Lussier encourages this office culture as the CEO of AmbitionAlly, a small business software company.
"Stress communication and respect before a conflict happens," she says. "Our team works remotely, so it can be challenging to keep communication channels open. But by stressing the importance of communication and speaking respectfully and positively of each team member from day one, we've been able to avoid a lot of awkward conflicts."
When frustrations do arise, pre-established communication channels help prevent them from escalating into full-blown fights. Lussier explains, "We also encourage team members to bring up little frustrations on a daily basis to try to catch problems before they escalate."