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Put a lid on runaway disputes

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

Managers who guard their time know not to get embroiled in employee disputes. Refereeing conflict can involve hours of fruitless back-and-forth verbal attacks.

Instead of immersing yourself in staffers' feuds, set boundaries and ground rules. Then stay out of it. Explain to combatants that you will hold them accountable for working together to fulfill their job responsibilities—and that it's up to them to forge a harmonious path.

If you decide to intervene, take baby steps. That's better than inserting yourself in the middle of a long-standing conflict and promising to address everyone's grievances. Use these techniques to cap runaway disputes:

  • Share two-minute solutions. Ask each employee to commit to problem-solving actions or behaviors. Before each person speaks, set a timer for two minutes. Take notes and draft a list of commitments made by each party. Exchanging concise, positive promises of "how I'll solve this" can bring people together with surprising speed.
  • Skip the past, shape the future. Rehashing who did what and why will only inflame tensions. Urge employees to concentrate on where to go from here: How will my behavior change? What conciliatory moves can I make? How can I exert more positive influence?
  • Play hard to get. Normally, you want to be accessible to your team. But limit your exposure to employees who prefer to drag you into their dispute. If they barge into your office, shoo them away. If they request repeated meetings, decline by saying, "I'm only willing to invest time in formalizing any agreements you two have made on your own to get along."
  • Clam up. Don't talk about the dispute with others. Your words can circle back to the combatants and trigger more ill will. If you must raise the issue with third parties, use discretion.

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