How to resolve conflict in your business

Mike Abbott of Abbott HR Consultancy explains why managing conflict in the workplace is such as challenge and how you can begin to defuse problems.

Conflict in the workplace can be extremely damaging. But for smaller businesses, workplace conflict can be catastrophic. Disagreements can quickly spiral out of control, creating rifts and bottlenecks and stopping people doing their jobs. Defusing conflict is difficult so it’s vital you follow these steps:

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Tackle it
Some workplace conflict resolves itself.  But this generally happens relatively quickly and with little fuss.  If it’s reached the attention of the business owner, it’s unlikely to self-resolve.  At this point, it’s vital that business owners or managers act. If you allow conflict to fester, it generally becomes harder to unravel.  

Approach it impartially
Workplace conflicts often spiral out of control because they are emotional charged and business owners have a personal connection with the individuals involved. The challenge is magnified for smaller businesses where there is very little hierarchy or separation between managers/owners and the staff. The friendlier you are with staff, the harder it is to be impartial and this makes conflict resolution even harder. If your emotional attachment is too strong, you need to ask another member of staff or an outside moderator for help.  

Understand the context
One of the trickiest elements of workplace conflict resolution is ascertaining why there is a problem. Often there is a genuine bottleneck or misunderstanding which a savvy and attentive business owner can address. Sometimes the problem is caused by an unreasonable or difficult member of staff. These people drag other people into a drama.  Working this out can be difficult but in instances when there is a clear problem with a certain individual, don’t be afraid to pull rank to change their behaviour.  You can’t be draconian and infringe on the rights of your staff. But business owners ultimately call the shots and can impose their will if someone is being unreasonably problematic. 

In other cases, the conflict is personal or too entrenched to be easily resolved.  For this, a more formal approach is needed.

Mike Abbott, Abbott HR Consultancy

Mike Abbott, Abbott HR Consultancy

Take a mediation approach
Business mediation works exactly like relationship mediation.  Bring both parties together and give them an equal and fair platform to air their grievances. I’ve found in the past that by creating a formalised forum for discussion quickly defuses conflict.  By giving visibility to conflict, people often backtrack and fix the problem themselves rather deal with the formality of mediation.  For those cases that need to go further, a few remedial sessions are often all that’s required in my experience. 

Business mediation is highly effective.  But it is difficult to do correctly.  A mediator needs to be a good listener with an impartial and open minded approach.  They cannot show bias and must be patient.  Mediation is a skill in itself so again, if you as the business leader or manager is uncomfortable or ill-equipped for the role, seek help.  You can contact me via my website: for more information or to arrange a free HR consultation.