Career coach: resolving workplace conflict

Q I work in a small HR department at a senior level, but the atmosphere has become very bitchy and confrontational. Two female colleagues, both of whom report to me, have recently fallen out over a non-work matter, and are letting the dispute spill over into work. Other staff can’t help but be drawn in. How can I assert the right level of authority to put a stop to this without making things worse?

A Regardless of the source of the conflict, it has become an issue at work and others are being affected, so it is important you intervene. Inevitably there will be two sides to the argument, but you must remain impartial and try to mediate between the two employees.

Most conflicts arise from a misunderstanding. So your main goal should be to ensure that they communicate clearly with one another. Get them to acknowledge their own part in the conflict. Make it clear that their behaviour is affecting other workers and causing stress in the department.

Provide them with a safe, confidential place where they can express themselves. It is important for them to recognise that the conflict is a result of both of their behaviours. They should ask themselves: How am I contributing to this conflict? How is my behaviour affecting the other person’s reaction? Get them to concentrate on the behaviour that has upset them, not the value judgement.

For example, if a manager says: “The fact that you are late means you don’t respect me or value my time,” they are actually reflecting a judgement. The person may have been late because they are disorganised or too busy or for a number of other reasons, none of which relate to respecting or valuing the manager. When we take things personally – and apply our own values and beliefs to a situation – misunderstanding and conflict can arise.

It is much better to state how you feel from your own perspective: “When you are late, I feel like you don’t value me and you are disrespecting me and wasting my time, and this makes me angry.” This statement ‘owns’ the reaction it reflects that the person speaking is choosing to feel the way they do as a reaction to the other person’s behaviour.

Another technique is to get them to empathise and put themselves in the other person’s shoes, by asking themselves: What impact is my behaviour having? How would I react if someone behaved like that to me? What do I want to gain by my behaviour? These simple questions can help to resolve conflict. Often when someone tries to see a situation from the other person’s point of view, they realise they are also responsible for the conflict. This encourages them to improve communication.

So, don’t avoid the situation – take action.

By Marielena Sabatier, executive coach and co-founder, Inspiring Potential

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