Resolving Employee Conflict

Employees are stressed. Employers are stressed. Everybody seems to be feeling it. It’s understandable and unfortunate, but many people are on-edge. If you’re seeing an elevated amount of conflict in your organization – first, be human and empathetic (that is, after all, a part of this HR role), stand for a minute in their shoes; and second, use some of the following ideas to help resolve the issue.

Conflict is typically a misunderstanding of the manner in which one person is communicating with another. I believe that stress has a way of magnifying the natural tendencies a person uses to communicate. By helping employees understand each other’s natural behavior versus focusing on the conflict itself, the focus is redirected. For example, we use a behavioral assessment on each staff member. This assessment breaks down behaviors into four categories. Each person fits into one or more categories.

We then teach a course on how to identify, understand and communicate with people that have different behavioral styles. After this portion of the training we hand out the assessments and identify for each participant their particular behavioral style(s). This is always fun. We spend the balance of the training on putting what we learned to real-life situations. We each share our behavioral style(s) and practice using our newly learned communication techniques. We then use this new “language” in all of our meetings, client situations, etc.

If conflict is arising – what’s really behind it? Is the employee fearful and lashing out, doing whatever it takes to save his job, are stresses from home overflowing to his workday? You may never know, or may be surprised to find that giving your employee an opportunity to vent, a minute to have you ear and full attention, is all he needs.

In all situations when conflict involves harassment, make sure you have all the facts.

For example:

An employee is being teased and harassed. The employee builds up her anger and yells or gets loud with the one that is teasing her. The person being harassed is a stellar employee in all other regards. The initial response of course is to conduct a harassment investigation on each incident and take steps to eliminate the harassment. Take steps to help the harassed employee as well, without making her feel “punished”. Teach her appropriate steps to defend herself and to help discourage or eliminate the behavior, for example:

1. Ask the harasser to please stop the harassing behavior.

2. If possible, explain to the harasser that she has no choice but to take further action as she is required to do.

3. If it continues, she is to observe who might be witnessing the behavior and find a supervisor to whom she can report this information (witnesses are very helpful to proving harassment)

Whether conflict is occurring as protective “digging in” to one’s innate style of communication as a response to stress, or is a true harassment situation, it can’t be overlooked or accepted.

Encourage your employees to come to you and consider if your workplace truly offers an open-door policy. Human Resources is so much more than paperwork and compliance. Especially in stressful economic times, the “human” factor may just be the most important factor in conflict resolution.


Tina Hamilton, PHR, is CEO and Founder of hireVision Group, Inc, a Human Resources company focusing on Hiring Management and HR DirectLink Services. Former owner of a multi-million dollar staffing service franchise, Tina successfully sold back the franchise and used the profits (and her passionate, entrepreneurial spirit) to launch hireVision in 2002 to make HR services available and affordable to any size business. With over 20 years in the field of Human Resources, Tina has a depth and bread...

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