Conflict Resolution in the Workplace: A Real-World Example

We continuously work with our community of over 10,000 owners and their managers on everyday HR problems. Recently, we have seen a trend in requests: conflict resolution in the workplace: A Real-World Example. It seems no matter where you work or what your job is… conflict will always come up in the workplace.

The most frustrating thing is the amount of time and effort it takes to get two people to resolve their problems. Unfortunately, the most common way most managers deal with it is to ignore or hope that it resolves itself. The bigger problem, though, is that the cost of doing so can literally impact the income of your business. That’s because when the backstage of a business has people going at each other and not getting along, your customers and patients notice it out front.

So, if you’re frustrated or looking for better options, let’s change that, shall we? CEDR’s new guide walks you through conflict resolution in the workplace. To date, this is our most popular guide so far, and for good reason! Download your complimentary copy of the guide today.

In this article, we are going to break down a situation that was recently presented to us by one of our members (of course, with their permission and all names changed!). Our members can work through just about any issue, including resolving conflict, with our HR Experts. This particular situation highlights that even the most conflict-avoidant person can follow a few steps and strategies to get better results.

The Situation

Dr. Smith owns a busy (and getting busier) dental practice; the customer base has doubled in the last couple of months due to their new social media postings and through the extra effort of several employees to make the entire system great for both the practice and the patients. As the workload increased, the number of instances where dental assistants and administrative staff were consistently late or frequently calling in sick, causing disruptions in the workflow and affecting patient care, also increased. As you can imagine, the employees who recognize the importance of the opportunity to serve more patients also notice when their fellow employees are constantly calling out or showing up late.

Dr. Smith was at a loss and started to notice that the staff that was showing up was often frustrated with those who kept calling out. Because of this, instead of enjoying and celebrating the win, they seemed angry at work all the time, causing new customers to pick up on that energy and bring it to Dr. Smith’s attention. Dr. Smith reached out to one of our HR Experts wanting to know what to do, as she was at the point where writing everyone up not only seemed counterproductive but also seemed like a buzz kill. Don’t forget that Dr. Smith does not like to confront people, so she is conflict-avoidant herself.

The Path to Resolution

Whether you are dealing with conflict similar to Dr. Smith's or something totally different, the steps outlined below are a great starting point to resolving issues in your workplace. Remember, these steps and more are outlined and detailed in our complimentary Conflict Resolution Guide.

1) Gathering information - First things first, Dr. Smith gave us the rundown of what was going on, and based on that, we directed her to follow the protocol set out in the conflict guide and gather a few more details about exactly what was going on. When resolving conflict, it is vital to focus on objective information so that when you give feedback, it too is objective - based on facts that can be measured somehow, with goals that empower you and those involved to know what must happen and why as you go forward.

As managers, our knee-jerk reaction is to look at subjective information - things based on emotions or opinions - but looking past that is one of the best ways to move forward through conflict.

For example, Mary does not care about schedules, her fellow employees, or the patients (subjective) vs. Mary is late for her first patient three days out of four (objective).

The information Dr. Smith obtained that was relevant to this conflict was data from attendance and punctuality issues: who has been late and how often, overall attendance records, and reviewing time-off requests.

Along with that, she also made sure to ask her office manager and anyone involved in leadership for all the objective information they had that might help shed light on exactly what needed to change to reduce the conflict.

While she was at it, she taught them the importance of giving her objective fact gathering vs. subjective, to which the manager provided timekeeping records showing the tardiness was habitual, and she also included records of actual patient complaints on the days anyone was late. Two of those complaints showed up as Google reviews, which you do not want when your social media campaigns drive in a lot of your business.

2) Reviewing policies - We then asked Dr. Smith to review the customized employee handbook that we created with her when she signed on to be a member. The section we focused on was her policies on tardiness and absenteeism, which clearly laid out what might happen if anyone was habitually late. Along with this, we looked at her business’s core values, which included, among other core values, taking accountability for being on time for one another and the patients.

3) Employee Feedback - Through the process, the doctor and her manager discovered a few things beyond what was happening with the habitually late employee. Thanks to the new campaigns working so well, not only were they facing all the normal interpersonal issues most businesses face daily, they were becoming victims of their own success! New patient referrals were up almost 100% over the 90 days. Dr. Smith realized just how busy they had become once she saw those numbers in front of her.

From her fact-gathering mission, she learned everyone was starting to feel burnout, and those who were on time and working as hard as they could imagine were becoming resentful of those who, quite frankly, continued to operate the way they always had. Naturally, the added responsibilities and pressure to ensure every patient had the best possible experience were beginning to take a toll, and conflict between a couple of team members was likely foreseeable.

4) Discussions - Now equipped with objective facts about attendance, policies from her employee handbook, a couple of core values, and the information provided by her employees, Dr. Smith was ready to sit down with the employees involved and see what she could do to resolve the conflict. She sat with the main people involved first: those who were late or absent on a consistent basis.

She asked each of them what was causing the lateness and how she could support them in coming to work on time. After some great discussions, she got some great ideas and reasonings from her employees. However, some just felt lackadaisical and didn’t care too much to participate. She issued verbal warnings to everyone involved as per the policy in her handbook and made sure to note that in their files within backstageHR.

5) Follow-Up - Dr. Smith noticed an immediate change in her office when she implemented the changes needed, like adjusting certain schedules and hiring more people to support the growth the practice has experienced.

She followed up with those who continued to be late, even after providing accommodations, and took appropriate corrective action (such as write-ups or terminations) when needed. She also made sure to celebrate all the progress everyone had made over time, as the morale of the practice was overall much better.


Conflict in the workplace sucks - we know all too well how frustrating it can be to deal with. However, equipping yourself with the knowledge of how to best approach a situation can make it much easier to deal with when it arises. In Dr. Smith’s case, by following this structured approach to conflict resolution in the workplace, she was able to successfully address the conflict of employee attendance issues. Clear policies, open communication, training, and ongoing support helped improve attendance and punctuality, ensuring better patient care and a more cohesive work environment. Download your copy of the Conflict Resolution Guide to learn more about strategies, communication methods, and more real-world examples of resolving conflict once and for all in your workplace.

Sep 11, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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