Does That Employee Dispute Boil Down to a Communication Problem?

BY Kathy Crosett
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We’d like to think that we’ve come a long way since employees settled their disputes with their fists. Most of us don’t have to put up with brawling in our workplaces, but employee disagreements are real. Disputes charge the atmosphere with negative energy and ruin productivity unless managers intervene.

In every workplace, you’ll find employees who don’t get along. Many times, disputes arise because one person wrongly assumes something about the intent of a co-​worker. If an employee has pointed out a mistake, the target employee may take offense. Instead of thanking the person for feedback, they may start yelling or even get physical. All this trouble often comes down to miscommunication.

Whatever the cause, alert managers should pay attention to any conflict that seems to be increasing. If you overhear an argument, don’t stick your head into your financial reports and pretend it’s going to go away. Be proactive and talk to each of the people involved. Ask if the disagreement has been worked out. If not, ask if the involved employees feel comfortable resolving it themselves. You should encourage them to do so and give them a deadline.

If these employees are unable to talk themselves through to a resolution, listen to both parties. But, don’t take sides. At this point, you need to remove emotion from the situation. If one of the folks involved is still emotional, set a chat time for when that person feels calmer.

Megan Moran, at Insperity, recommends that you find a solution quickly. If necessary, set up a temporary organizational change. That way, the two people don’t have to interact with each other until they settle down. And, everyone else can get back to work.

Most importantly, you can head off this kind of trouble by giving your employees training and communication tools. If you use an employee profiling system like DISC, hold employee workshops that review basic differences in personality. You should discuss and demonstrate how one person’s “gift” of advice can be seen as criticism by another person. The more information people have, the more likely they are to understand each other.