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Employee Conflict – Personal Story – 3 Important Leadership Tips

Employee Conflict

Managing employee conflict is not at the top of my list of fun things to do. And I am pretty sure it isn’t on yours either.

A number of years ago I was unwillingly caught in an employee conflict of my own.

Her name was Ingrid (not her real name of course). She was an older, louder and very big woman who was a bit intimidating. As a new employee to the department, I found Ingrid was a “wealth of knowledge” on the history, politics, processes and policies of the department mingled with a good dose of gossip.

Being new, and maybe somewhat wise, I tried to steer away from making quick assumptions and unfair judgments about people and the department in general. After awhile I began to get the sense that Ingrid didn’t care for me.

About six months into the job she stopped talking to me all together. Something was obviously wrong. I went to my manager for counsel. His advice was to simply talk to her face to face and that nothing would get resolved until we did.

While his counsel was good, I was a bit terrified; I hated conflict. However, I decided I would talk to her.

One afternoon as Ingrid passed my cubicle I asked her if we could meet in one of the conference rooms. She asked, “Why?” I told her I had noticed she wasn’t speaking to me anymore, and I would like to talk about it. Her response coupled with almost a sprint to the conference room was, “You bet!” I thought, “Oh boy, what have I done?”

When we got into the conference room she quickly outlined everything that bothered her about me, and I in turn did the same in regards to her. We had what I thought was a healthy discussion.

When we were done I said, “I feel a lot better Ingrid, thank you for taking the time to meet with me.” Her response to that was, “I don’t feel any better, in fact I am going to continue to be $#%&@# mad for the next few months!”

Wow! That wasn’t the response I expected. However, within days, she completely turned around. She was kind, considerate and it seemed like I was her favorite co-worker. I guess getting it off of her chest worked.

I continued to be her favorite until I was promoted as her supervisor several months later! Interesting how things work out. She left the company.

Employee conflict, like any relationship, requires both parties to work things out together. How do you manage it as a leader? Here are three tips that I have found helpful.

1. Don’t jump in! I have found that most employee conflict can be resolved between the two involved. It is critical that as a leader you give them the opportunity to do so as my boss did in the above story.

Besides, if you jump in and try to resolve every employee conflict you will find more and more of your staff coming to you with every conflict. This means you will spend more time peace making than doing the important things leaders do.

2. Jump in! If employees can’t work it out, then it will be critical that you jump in. If you chose to ignore it, there is a good possibility that it will become a poison to your team and organization as staff begin to choose sides!

Therefore if you need to, jump in. Help them to work it out and understand where the other is coming from. You will find in most cases that an agreement can be worked out if both employees truly try to understand each other.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions. Ensure you get all of the facts and never take sides. If you are eventually going to help resolve the employee conflict you need to be as objective as possible.

Question: How have you dealt with employee conflict? Please share by commenting below.

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