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Difficult Conversations: Dealing With Disputes In The Workplace


No matter how much we may hate it, conflict arises in all aspects of our lives at some point – and it needs to be faced head on and resolved, in one way or another. We have all experienced disputes and had tricky discussions with those we’re in dispute with, but in the workplace, things must be more mediated and balanced than perhaps they would be in our personal lives; and for Managers, any such situations must be diffused not just quickly (to avoid unnecessary escalation) but also efficiently (to avoid a reoccurrence). How can this be done, even by those who dislike and actively avoid confrontation? Follow these top tips!


Something Brewing? Keep A Close Eye

If you know your team well, it may be that you’re able to sense a dispute or ill-feeling on the way before it actually happens. Keep a close eye on your team’s interactions with one another (and with other departments/areas) and don’t be afraid to intervene early – you may be able to stop a negative situation before it begins.


Don’t Take Sides

A Manager should never ‘take sides’ in a dispute between two people and must be seen to stay fair to both the individuals and the dispute resolution process throughout. If you have a conflict of interest or are feeling as though you’re struggling to see things subjectively, speak to another Manager or to HR and gain a fresh perspective. You can be compassionate whilst remaining impartial.

Allow For Frank, Yet Not Offensive, Discussion

If people are angry, annoyed or frustrated, they may speak in a way that is not necessarily befitting to a professional environment. Whilst you need to facilitate honest and open conversation, there must be boundaries set. Emotive language, name calling and swearing must all be ruled out and you must be prepared to intervene if these rear their head. Choose your language carefully and set out the facts only.


Don’t Be Afraid To Involve HR

If you are unsure or uncomfortable about a difficult conversation, never hesitate to involve HR. Whilst most of us think of having to speak to HR as a ‘last resort’, any HR professional will tell you it really shouldn’t be! There’s no ‘too early’ to converse with your HR representatives and they’ll be able to expertly guide you through processes, procedures and proper conversations.


Create Value

A difficult conversation can often feel as though you’re heading into an argument, but re-frame your thinking. Your aim with a dispute resolution discussion is to create value, for both parties, and seek to resolve the situation and make things better. If you enter into a situation knowing what you want to achieve, what you’d love to achieve, and what you hope to achieve, you’ll be able to work constructively toward that with your goals in mind throughout; creating value by having the conversation and actively improving your business as a result.

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