Stuck with two employees who just can’t see eye to eye? Every worker in a small company is crucial to its operations, so if you see conflict brewing among members of your staff, you need to jump in to make sure that personal disagreement doesn’t affect your bottom line.
“When you have six people on a team and two of them aren’t getting along, that’s a terrible ratio,” says Chris Griffiths, director of Fine Tune Consulting, a Toronto-area firm. “It’s really important to recognize that [as] a huge compromise on your ability to run your business effectively.”
Conflicts among employees need to be addressed right away, and while particularly serious situations like bullying or harassment will likely require outside help, there are several steps business owners can take to deal these clashes when they occur:
Get to the root of the problem
Cissy Pau, a human resource management expert with Clear HR Consulting Inc. in Vancouver, says employers should start by figuring out what’s causing the disagreement. Does it stem from a specific incident, an interpersonal conflict or a communication issue? If it’s something that can be resolved with a conversation between the two employees, the business owner should encourage them to talk it out.
If it goes beyond that, you should set up a meeting to discuss the problem with both employees. Be open about the impact the scuffle is having on their work, and talk about what can be done about it.
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Don’t take sides
Both parties need to be able to raise their concerns in a safe environment, so it’s crucial for the business owner mediating the meeting to avoid taking sides. People tend to know each other better in a small business than in a big company, but existing relationships can’t come into play when two employees are trying to air their grievances.
“At the end of the day, the entrepreneur has to get good at being objective, showing empathy toward both situations and basically being the judge and jury to define how things are going to have to operate differently on an ongoing basis,” says Griffiths. He suggests that each aggrieved party should accompany every concern raised with a compliment, to show that each can find a way of appreciating the contribution of the other. The disagreement should also be kept private—your don’t need your other employees getting entangled in the feud.
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Make it about the business
Keeping the focus on the needs of the company will help steer the conversation away from personal attacks. Meet separately with each party before having a joint session, to make sure everyone has a chance to candidly express concerns, but keep bringing the discussion back to what’s best for the company.
“The tendency tends to be for us to communicate our ideas and our concerns from our own perspective, but the entrepreneur has to challenge the employees to talk about why the business needs those employees to act in a certain way,” Griffiths believes. “If you always bring it back to what the business needs, you remove yourself from personal desires and wants and needs. That really helps clarify the fact that we’re all in this together and that this business of ours is a living, breathing thing and we all have to do our part to contribute to it.”
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It’s important to follow up with your employees after a few days to see how things have developed and talk about next steps. Unless it’s a very minor issue, the dispute won’t be resolved with just one meeting. It’s also a good idea to regularly check in with employees, and to look at their behaviours and their values and how those are shaping the company’s overall work environment, suggests Pau.
“Conflict is difficult; no one relishes being in conflict with someone or dealing with a particularly touchy situation,” she says. “(But) especially for a small company, because each person is such a significant part of the business, you can’t ignore it.”
“It all revolves around culture. What’s the culture that you’re trying to create at your company so that you can attract and retain workers and so people want to deal with your business?”
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