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Resolving workplace conflicts requires helping the employees involved identify the major points of contention, and then have an honest discussion about their interests and motivations. You can then move forward to pinpointing solutions that ease the conflict. While conflict is natural and unavoidable at any workplace, it can easily turn destructive, so it's crucial for a company's management to establish procedures for confronting and addressing conflict when it does occur.
Cool Off the Combatants
Calm the warring parties first. Clear thinking is unlikely to happen while an argument continues to boil over, notes psychologist David W. Ballard in the article, "10 Tips for Tackling the Toughest Workplace Conflicts." Schedule a meeting with a set time limit to help both sides resolve their issue, and consider noise levels, privacy and visibility when choosing a venue.
Develop Active Listening Skills
Focus on issues, not personalities. If you're asked to mediate, ask both sides to confirm which points are being discussed -- and in what order -- before going any further. Use active listening skills to determine why an employee holds his particular opinion. Repeat what the other person says, and ask follow-up questions to make sure that you understand. Acknowledge how the other person feels before moving to the next point.
Establish Some Common Ground
Ask open-ended questions to help participants distinguish between interests -- or concerns about an issue -- and positions that conflict with an employer's needs. For example, a worker leaving early to pick up her child may not realize that her coworker resents covering for her. Once coworkers realize how their behavior affects each other, you can help them identify some possible solutions. According to Forbes magazine, this type of appeal is known as the What's In It For Me factor.
Explore All Reasonable Options
Help participants brainstorm solutions that satisfy their common interests. Don't rule out any one option until you discuss them all in greater detail, suggests the Alberta Government's Let's Talk: A Guide to Resolving Workplace Conflicts. Tie each option to the issue that you're trying to solve. For example, the employee who leaves early could adopt a flexible schedule, so others aren't always picking up her unfinished tasks. Once everyone accepts a possible solution, check if it's possible to implement, and whether other employees need to accept it.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.