Article by Simon Slade
Business owners, entrepreneurs, managers – anyone in charge of a team – will be required to mediate conflict at some point in their career. Even if your team has great rapport, there will come a time when two or more colleagues can’t see eye to eye.
Mediation is not a responsibility one can take lightly. Unresolved conflicts don’t only affect the involved parties – they affect the entire team. Without proper mediation, these conflicts can lead to a hostile work environment that can dramatically impact productivity.
When you have an invaluable group of excellent employees, you have to find a way to make them all happy. Here are the three most important steps to take when coworkers can’t seem to co-work with one another:
1. Collect Reliable Information
Depending on how you learned about the disagreement, one of the first steps for any mediation will be to collect information to ensure you understand the perspectives of everyone involved. This might mean sitting down in a group or touching base with each employee individually
It is important to be sensitive while collecting information about a conflict. If an employee aired their grievances to you in confidence, it obviously isn’t appropriate to relay those grievances to another employee. Use your best judgment when deciding how you can best understand the issue at hand.
Furthermore, it’s important to ensure that your information is reliable. Take into consideration biases when listening to each side of the disagreement, and be careful to separate fact from opinion.
2. Identify Potential Solutions
One mistake often made in mediation is identifying general solutions rather than specific ones. Ask each involved party to identify clearly what outcome would leave them most satisfied. While these solutions often won’t align immediately, this information will offer you a starting point from which to find a viable solution that pleases everyone.
Be sure to avoid “band-aid solutions.” If two employees are having trouble working together on a project, a band-aid solution would be to separate them. While this fixes a symptom of the problem, it doesn’t solve the problem itself, which is that these two employees struggle to interact with each other. Find the root cause and fix it.
Also consider how the work environment or distribution of responsibility might be contributing to the conflict. For example, these employees could be under a tight deadline that is causing tension. By extending that deadline or identifying smaller milestones for each employee within the project, you might remove some of the tension. As a supervisor, you might be able to directly contribute to the solution by restructuring the work environment.
3. Always Revisit
While you should trust your employees to take the actions they have committed to taking during mediation, you should never assume this has happened. A conflict always needs to be revisited. Not only will returning to the issue allow you to learn whether the solution has been effective, but it will also allow for a discussion of how to avoid future disagreements.
After agreeing to a solution with the involved parties, schedule time for a progress report. Touch base individually with each person in the days or weeks between the mediation and the progress report meeting. If someone is still struggling, they might be more willing to admit their concerns to you in private than at a group check-in.
If your solution doesn’t appear to be working, scrap it and try something else. Once you are monitoring the disagreement, it may become easier for you to identify a single factor –or a single individual – who is contributing to the issue most heavily. If this is the case, it is your responsibility to address the situation accordingly.
Mediation Should Be Rare
While it’s not healthy to let bad feelings simmer among your team members, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. One of the hallmarks of leadership is knowing when to intervene and when to step back.
It should be rare that you are required to mediate. Though unavoidable, mediation shouldn’t be commonplace. Your employees should be mature and professional enough to compromise and settle disputes on their own most of the time. Your involvement should only be required after the involved parties have exhausted their own attempts at resolution.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Simon Slade is CEO and cofounder of Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal with more than 100 free video lessons; SaleHoo, an online wholesale directory of more than 8,000 prescreened suppliers; and their parent company Doubledot Media Limited, which provides seven different training and software applications to more than 1 million customers worldwide. Through these companies, Simon provides the education and resources for eCommerce professionals to start their own businesses and achieve occupational independence.