The grown-up guide to handling conflict in business

1.    Understand individual styles

It may not prevent disruption completely, but arming managers with the knowledge of how different people work together can help them nip disagreements in the bud. Psychometric tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator can be useful here, marking out where the friction points might be. Can there be some compromise between people who prefer structure and those who like flexibility?

2.    Get them Talking

When you observe that two or more employees may be experiencing issues with one another, don’t assume they’ll sort it out by themselves. It’s crucial to upskill managers to listen. They should listen to what the complainant has to say and repeat it back to them; this way they feel like they’ve been heard.” Because managers tend to be solution-focused, he adds, they often want to apply their own resolution, which may not work. It’s better to ask: how would you approach this?

Don’t belittle the problem by saying ‘Let’s sort out this little problem of yours’ or ‘Let’s all have a chat and move on’. Avoid trying to predict what people will feel, and don’t try to generalise the problem by saying: ‘We all have struggles at work, everyone else seems to just get on with it’.

3.    Consider mediation

If dialogue has not produced the desired resolution, it may be time to introduce some informal or formal mediation into the mix. According to the CIPD, just 1.5% of employees experiencing conflict have access to mediation, despite the fact that almost half felt it would be an effective approach to dealing with the problem.

Large companies may have trained mediators internally who are able to be objective because they don’t know those involved. If not, drafting in a third-party mediator can be helpful, as the employees affected are more likely to feel the process is fair and that the company does not have an agenda. Training employees up as accredited mediators is one option.

Don’t leave it too long though. Offer it before you enter a formal grievance process if possible. Organisations worry about the up-front investment, but if a small conflict ends up in a formal grievance or tribunal, the financial and human cost can be a lot greater.

4.    Make it formal

If all avenues have been explored, the employee may still feel their issue has not been resolved, and may lodge a formal grievance with their manager. If this happens, one of the first things to do is refer back to your original contract with the employee. One of the requirements of the Employment Rights Act is that you set out details of what happens if staff have a grievance in their contract or statement of particulars.

Refer to the Acas Code of Conduct on disciplinary procedures, which, while not legally binding in itself, will be a point of reference should the employee bring the case to a tribunal. After the grievance is lodged, the manager should sit down with the aggrieved party and hear what they have to say. This should be followed by an impartial investigation, which could mean acquiring statements from other staff, or even suspending one or more of the parties involved.

The outcome of the grievance should be delivered in person. It’s good practice to discuss the outcome of the process in person, as this can be a sensitive time, and it allows the employer to explain why it was accepted or rejected. Employees should then be offered the opportunity to appeal the decision, and the hearing and investigation process begins again.

5.    Be prepared for the worst

A small proportion of workplace disputes do end up in employment tribunals. If it looks like this may be the case, do keep in mind other options.  If the person chooses to stay, can they be transferred or their working pattern changed? It’s natural for employers to look for damage limitation.

If an employee cannot move on from the outcome of a grievance, they may decide to leave and sue their employer for constructive dismissal, or even discrimination. In this case, it’s essential to ensure that all the appropriate grievance processes have been followed, that decisions have been issued in writing, and that evidence has been collected.

Taken from article published in People Management Magazine on 19 February 2015 by Jo Faragher

Petaurum Solutions’ Comment

Workplace conflict often starts at a low level but the consequences are increasingly grave.  Ensuring your Managers have the skills and the confidence to nip conflict in the bud in definitely the way to go.  However, a workplace mediation service can be the answer if you’re looking for independence in facilitating a win/win outcome.  Our expert and experienced workplace mediators resolve complex and challenging disputes – swiftly, effectively and with as little disruption as possible. They will work with parties in a dispute to establish their underlying needs and interests, encourage dialogue and ultimately, facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution.  Interested in finding out more?  Contact us


This information is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. The information provided here was accurate as of the day it was posted; however, the law may have changed since that date. This information is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal, HR or benefits advice in any specific situation. Petaurum Solutions is not responsible for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this information. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *