Conflict Resolution: Steps to Effective Problem Solving

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Effective conflict resolution in the workplace is a vital skill for leaders, as unresolved issues can disrupt productivity and harm team dynamics. While expecting employees to resolve conflicts independently is ideal, it often falls on you as a leader to intervene and guide the resolution process.

Recently, we at CEDR created an entire guide to conflict resolution in the workplace. We get hundreds of help requests from employers all across the United States looking for guidance about solving various workplace conflicts. As a manager of people, it’s no easy task to work through the emotions that arise with everyone involved, but also ensure you follow all the right steps when reaching a resolution.

Make no mistake, though, conflict that happens in the workplace is also an HR issue. Left to its own accord, it can kill morale and even become a liability.

Because of that, we decided to write an in-depth guide for you to use as you navigate situations that arise daily for you as a manager or owner of a business. This blog summarizes the key steps and strategies for managing conflicts within your team effectively that are within the full guide and you can download the complete guide for free!

Establish a Strong Company Culture

Believe it or not, this is one more way a robust company culture that is clearly communicated and is based on Core Values, Purpose, and Mission provides a foundation for conflict resolution. Clear Core Values, such as effective communication, innovation, and cooperative problem-solving, serve as guidelines for addressing conflicts objectively. Defining your Purpose and Mission not only helps employees understand the bigger picture but also serves to align their actions with the organization's goals. Need to re-evaluate your company culture? Check out our comprehensive guide on the topic.

When you have a strong company culture in place, you can use that to address conflict and re-align your people. For example, if you have a core value of “helping out fellow team members” and you have one employee refusing to help a new hire, you can point to how not being helpful does not meet two of your core values. It’s unprofessional and negatively impacts how the practice runs and, ultimately, the patients.

Not only have they seen the core values when they read your handbook when they started, but they are always readily accessible for them to read via the HR Vault. Because of this, your seasoned employee should not be blindsided when this discussion happens.

Attack the Problem, NOT the Person

Workplace conflicts can escalate into divisive issues if left unchecked. Taking proactive steps to address conflicts head-on is crucial to maintaining a positive work environment. When conflicts are left unresolved, they can escalate, leading to divisions among team members and affecting overall workplace harmony.

When addressing conflict, be sure to leave any personal bias behind and only look at the facts. This is where subjective vs. objective feedback comes into play. Balancing subjective opinions with objective observations is essential for effective conflict resolution.

Objective feedback relies on verifiable facts and data. When documenting conflicts or speaking with the employees involved, maintain a professional tone and focus on job-related issues. This is your objective feedback: Does their timecard consistently show them as being late? Are opening tasks not getting done on time because closing tasks were not done properly? Anything that is clear-cut and can be shown to the employee is what you want to focus on here.

On the other side, subjective feedback is often rooted in personal beliefs and interpretations. It can come off as judgemental when you use words or phrases like lazy, doesn’t care, not with the program to describe someone’s behavior to them.And, we all know from experience, it will trigger a fight or flight response.

Take, for instance, one employee keeps leaving early and not closing properly. As a result, it’s upsetting coworkers and is also impacting how the business runs. This employee is in conflict with one or more of their team members.

The person becomes defensive and digs in. On the other hand, if you can point out that they clocked out early and didn’t complete the closing task on their SOP for closing, and that it made opening the practice run ten minutes behind, it makes it kind of hard to argue with you and stay defensive. As a reminder, keep it objective and private when offering constructive negative feedback. Also, please, please, please make notes in the employee’s file to remind you of what you said, what they said, and when you talked to them. And by the way, keep those notes objective because you may need them one day to justify further actions.

Assess Conflict Risk Levels

Before intervening in a conflict, assess the level of risk it poses to the business. Conflict usually falls into one of these three categories:

Conflict That Does NOT Violate Policies: Differing opinions or communication preferences can cause conflicts. This level of conflict, while not aligned with company culture, doesn't violate policies or laws. This can usually be resolved with documented conversations with your employees.

Conflict That DOES Violate Policies: Conflicts that involve unprofessional behavior and disrupt workplace goals fall into this category. It contradicts your Core Values and negatively impacts productivity and teamwork. An example of this is like the one we mentioned above: a seasoned employee refusing to train a new hire with no real reason to do so.

Conflict That Violates the Law: When conflicts involve harassment or discrimination based on protected characteristics, they violate both policies and laws. This is a conflict that you may need to work with an HR expert to resolve, as it is very risky, and you need to take the proper steps to resolve it. CEDR members have access to expert HR problem solvers who can help. Not a CEDR member? Reach out today to join our community.

Paths to Resolution

Depending on the conflict's risk level, you can choose from various approaches to achieve resolution:

Frequent Check-ins: Schedule follow-up discussions to allow time for processing and fact-gathering. This approach maintains engagement with the issue while avoiding a rushed decision.

Empower Employees: Encourage conflicted parties to propose solutions. Their involvement fosters buy-in and shared understanding, increasing the likelihood of a successful resolution. it may not work, but it is important to try.

Corrective Coaching: For conflicts that breach Core Values or policies, consider corrective coaching. Address the issue through verbal or written warnings, and if necessary, escalate to termination.

Conclusion: Fostering a Positive Work Environment

Remember, download our complimentary guide to Conflict Resolution today to gain access to a much more detailed breakdown of conflict, including examples and techniques for approaching it with your employees. Effective conflict resolution is a critical skill for leaders. By proactively addressing conflicts, focusing on company culture, and using objective feedback, you can maintain a positive work environment and promote collaboration. Assessing conflict risk levels and choosing appropriate paths to resolution empowers you to handle conflicts efficiently. Embracing these strategies helps to right the ship, maintain strong teams, enhance productivity, and cultivate a culture of excellence and accountability in any organization.

Aug 24, 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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