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Handle employee conflicts with confidence

There are always emotions in workplace conflicts. It’s up to you as a leader to minimize the emotion.

4 min read


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Few people like conflict. But, as a leader, it’s part of your job to deal with issues and conflicts employees create in your workplace. You ignore them at your peril.

And when you create a system for dealing with disputes, you can handle them faster, easier, and with less fall-out. Follow this checklist to minimize the conflicts among your employees.

Recognize the conflicts

Be aware of your employees and their disputes. Tune your antenna for tension in the ranks. Once you see the potential problems, ask yourself: Can they be solved by themselves, or do you need to step in?

Do your employees have the tools or desire to solve the problem themselves? If so, empower them to resolve their own problems. If not, can some small guidance by you help them solve it on their own?

Understand the nature of the conflict

Conflicts come from different sources. Are they caused by personality differences or issues with the business organization?

Personality problems may be resolved by counseling to create a more professional environment. It may also work to put some distance between the people or to adjust the job descriptions for clear boundaries.

Try to avoid the quagmire of “he said, she said” accusations. But, also, monitor the tension to see that the problem has not merely gone underground.

Issues with the business organization may come from unclear job descriptions or company policies themselves. Conflict could arise from employees not being clear on the company policy, or it may be that the policies create perceived or real unfairness.

You may need to review promotion guidelines, job descriptions or other areas. Then, clarify or modify them to reduce potential conflicts.

Bring quick and fair resolution to conflict

Regardless of the cause, don’t let the problem fester. Act as soon as you have hard evidence of a conflict or problem between employees.

There are always emotions in these problems. It’s up to you as a leader to minimize the emotion. You can do that as you:

  • See past the drama to the essence of the problem
  • Don’t play favorites. Really look to see all sides of the issue
  • Search for manipulation or self-serving behavior that tries to bias the issues

It often helps to define acceptable behavior. When you frame it as a company standard, it reduces the possibility of it sounding critical or biased. For example:

In this company, we treat everyone with respect. We expect professional behavior both in person and in emails.

Communicate clearly and directly

Simply communicating clearly can sometimes help resolve problems. Did the conflict result from a misunderstanding between employees or the company?

  • Review your communications for accuracy
  • Hear out your employees. They respect you as you listen to their concerns
  • Create an atmosphere of trust and respect so they come with problems when they are still small
  • Give your directions for the solution with accuracy and authority so there are no misunderstandings or wiggle room

As you resolve the problem make sure everyone understands the outcome. Ask employees to repeat back what they understand as the solution. Then set up a follow-up plan to confirm the problem has truly been resolved, or to re-address it as necessary.

When you are aware of employee conflicts, step in quickly, and act in a fair manner to resolve disputes you create a more productive and harmonious workplace. Clear communication and follow-through helps employees respect you and want to follow you.


Joel Garfinkle conducts executive business coaching and is the author of Difficult Conversations: Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication and Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. Recently, he worked with a VP who had to confront three employee performance problems and dramatically improve relationships cross-functionally throughout the company. Contact Joel for executive coaching for yourself or your leaders. Over 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!