Keep conflicts from becoming a distraction to mission-critical work
Occasional conflicts between colleagues are inevitable in any organization, no matter how smoothly run or well established. Even with official guidance from personnel policies, though, you might be uneasy at the thought of facing an employee who's frustrated with a teammate.
For the best possible outcomes, keep these strategies in mind.
Listen with attention
As much as possible, deal with these frustrations in person. When you meet, give the employee your full attention. Don't take phone calls, type text messages or dismiss the meeting by thinking, "I know where this is going."
Separate facts from interpretations
The facts about any situation are the exact words and visible behaviors. Interpretations are opinions about the meaning of words and behaviors. "Robert missed two deadlines last week" is a fact. "Robert is slacking" is an interpretation.
When listening to an employee's concerns, don't dismiss interpretations — but do probe for facts: What did you see? What did you hear? Who was present?
Ask questions to clarify
When listening to the employee, avoid interrupting him or her. If the employee has difficulty expressing the concern, however, you might make a request: "Please pause for a moment and let me summarize what I've heard so far." Or, depending on the nature of the situation, you might gently redirect the conversation by asking, "How can I help?" Knowing the desired response can help you gain clarity.
Don't immediately agree or disagree with the employee, and don't take sides. You might need to talk to several other people before coming to a conclusion. Avoid statements that promise any particular resolution.
Document the discussion
Jot down the main points of discussion or any details that may be easy to forget after the meeting.
At the end of your meeting, clarify the next steps. For example, if you plan to discuss the situation with other people, say so — and confirm that you'll keep the matter as confidential as possible.
Depending on the nature of the situation, you might ask the employee to put his or her concerns in writing. If the situation poses potential legal concern, report it to your HR staff or legal adviser immediately.
When you have updates to report or you've reached a resolution, check in with the employee. Thoughtful follow-up will let employees know that you take their frustrations seriously.
Harvard Business Review: The top complaints from employees about their leaders by Lou Solomon (2015)
Inc.com: How to handle employee complaints by Josh Spiro (2010)
Your Office Coach: Responding to employee concerns by Marie G. McIntyre (2011)