How to handle employee personality conflicts

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in Human Resources

Issue: Employee disagreements are often laid at the feet of HR.

Risk: Disputes can lower morale, cut productivity and even trigger violence.

Action: Follow the following 5-step plan for easing tensions between employees.

You shouldn't try to solve very minor squabbles between employees. Unless the situation needs immediate intervention, such as one that could erupt in violence, always give employees a chance to work out their difference before you step in.

But if it's clear that the situation is escalating, follow these guidelines to help them resolve the dispute:

1. Interview each person privately. Ask open-ended questions about how, when and why the conflict started. Don't prejudge; just gather information from each person's viewpoint.

Make it clear to both that the dispute is disrupting the work environment and needs to be settled.

2. Set a cooling-off period. When people are upset, they usually aren't open to discussing solutions. Tell both employees that you're giving them a few hours or even a few days to calm down before you discuss the situation with them again.

3. Ask for solutions in writing. During the cooling-off period, ask both people to write down possible ways to resolve the situation.

Explain that "solutions" requiring action from only the other person are not acceptable; they must include suggestions for how they personally can improve the situation. This step helps turn both individuals away from blaming and toward constructive problem solving.

4. Meet with both employees together. Set ground rules. Examples: No name-calling, no derogatory statements and one person talks at a time. Give employees two or three minutes to summarize their perspective. Make it clear the goal is to find a mutually agreeable resolution, not to continue placing blame. If you can't help them reach agreement, tell the employees they'll have to agree to differ, but that it must not interfere with their work.

5. Follow up. Depending on the dispute's severity, follow up with both employees within a week or so. If the conflict continues to disrupt their work, look at alternative solutions such as work re-assignments.

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