How do I resolve office disputes?

29 August 2012 -


Building a climate for effective conflict management is tough – but one of the most crucial aspects of creating a peaceful work environment

You can’t expect everyone to get on all the time, and sometimes disagreements will raise the temperature in the office – but it is important to know how to effectively settle disputes as they arise. As inevitable as they are, conflicts are dangerous if left unmanaged. Long-running conflicts eventually result in breakdown in communication, ineffective teams, low productivity and stress. So there is no question about it; office disputes must be resolved promptly or they may have devastating effects for the whole team. Here are some easy steps to help you avoid the pitfalls:

1. Realise that some conflict is a necessary

Remember that conflict is necessary in a productive environment. Whenever people are committed, engaged and interested, conflict is bound to occur as diverging views on the best way to do things collide. Don’t aim to avoid conflict as this is naïve and stifles diversity – instead focus on developing constructive strategies for handling conflicts. Be happy that your employees care enough to disagree.

2. Don’t delay

Deal with the conflict as soon as it arises. Don’t let it stew. Often it is the product of misunderstandings or lack of communication. Be sure to take the conversation into a separate room where all involved parties can have their say and discuss things constructively without the pressure of colleagues hearing. This can’t be hurried. Don’t fall for the temptation to smooth things over and pretend nothing happened; it will creep up again. Invest time in managing the situation.

3. Recognise that very few disputes are clear cut

Disputes where one party is totally in the wrong and the other totally in the right are vanishingly rare. Try to avoid forcing one party to concede all their ground, as they may resent this and lose respect for you as a manager. Instead, focus on areas of common ground or comprise which may yield a workable solution.

4. Demand apologies only for personal attacks

Apologies should be made for verbal abuse, unprofessional behaviour and other transgressions of etiquette – not for differences of opinion. Colleagues who have been personally scorned deserve and must receive apologies if things are to move on, but don’t ask staff to apologise to colleagues, even superiors, just because they disagree with them over a point of policy. It breeds resentment.

5. Ask for help

Your aim is to find a solution, not to merely “make things ok”. If disputes continue to arise, it might be worth using a mediator; an independent party that isn’t involved in the conflict and who can offer a fresh set of solutions. You, as someone in a general management position, may not always be the right person for this. Don’t be scared to seek professional advice if the problem escalates.

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