Originally published in Small Business Trends.
It doesn’t matter how robust the company wellness program is or how relaxing the nap room feels—when two or more employees are stuck in a negative situation, the entire startup suffers. Whether they’re butting heads on a new collaborative project or talking behind each other’s backs about a personal matter, it’s up to the boss to put an end to the conflict and bring the office morale—and productivity—back up to par.
We asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation-only organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs, the following question about getting a grip on the office grumps:
“What is one conflict resolution tip you have used to mediate negative situations between two or more employees?”
Here’s what YEC community members had to say:
1. Tell It to the Judge
Treat a conflict resolution between employees like a court case. Let each employee produce a brief written statement and evidence to support their side of the story. Review them impartially, and make a swift and just decision. Make sure that the losing party doesn’t receive a punishment too severe, and put all parties back to work.
~ Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings
2. Address the Situation Immediately
Employee conflicts that are allowed to fester can have a significant negative effect on the company as a whole. Get the employees together, mediate a discussion and commit to a solution before anyone leaves. Don’t take sides and try to address the conflict objectively. No one likes working in an environment with an air of tension and discord.
~ Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
3. Adopt a Proactive Approach
On a small team, it’s especially important to address internal conflicts before they escalate and blow up. Coach your team to comfortably handle conflicts in a non-charged fashion, and set an example with your own healthy ability to manage conflict. By doing this, you will build a culture of proactive mediation and conflict resolution.
~ David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
4. Take the Company’s Side
Choosing one employee over another can be dangerous to morale, especially if you’re not exactly sure what happened. Make it as clear as possible that you’re impartial and that you’re on the company’s side. Going from there can at least help mitigate any bad feelings and will let you fall back on an existing policy.
~ Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
5. Bring in More Objective Advisers
Founders walk a fine line when mediating negative situations between employees — you do not want to be seen as “taking the side” of one teammate. I try to get everyone together as much as possible to discuss the differences and then research for objective advice. Sometimes, that means calling mutual advisers; other times, it means researching on Quora.
~ Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
6. Look at What the Books Say
I highly recommend reading the books “Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Confrontations” by Kerry Patterson and looking at the advice and models these books provide for talking through tense situations. Oftentimes, when you have the right model for communication, negative situations can quickly diffuse into positive solutions.
~ Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®
7. Offer Drinks on You
I pulled two employees aside and said I would fire both of them if they didn’t fix their problem by that afternoon, but if they did, drinks that night were on me. #CEOproblems
~ Jordan Fliegel, CoachUp, Inc.
8. Remember That You All Have One Goal
When conflict arises, always set the stage and remind all parties that everyone has good intentions. Most times, conflict arises between good people because there is bad communication or a lack of information between parties. Remind everyone that, as a company, you have the same goals. Then, work from that shared ground.
~ Ben Rubenstein, Yodle
9. Watch for a Lack of Resolution
You want employees to be able to resolve things on their own. But when it becomes apparent that this resolution is not occurring, the sooner you (or someone from your top-level team) jump in to mediate, the better. Rarely do these situations resolve themselves and if you let things fester, they’ll spread quickly and create deeper problems.
~ Anderson Schoenrock, ScanDigital
10. Treat Them Like Adults
Communication is critical between employees who are having issues with each other. Giving them ownership of the situation, reminding them of the greater purpose and treating them like adults who can come to a resolution on their own can work more efficiently than introducing a third-person mediator in some situations.
~ Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia
What’s your best tip for resolving work conflict? Tell us about it in comments below.