You know that phrase, "You can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your family." I've always thought you could easily replace "family" with "co-workers".
When we work side by side, day after day, issues will come up. Sometimes we can work through them. Sometimes the conflict is so intense there's a complete communication breakdown.
If you're the manager or supervisor, it's your job to get in there and take care of things. To walk in after (or during) the fire and rebuild.
Here are a few simple steps to help you mediate:
1. Listen. The first step to resolving any issue is to understand it. And to understand employee issues requires listening -- closely. Let each side tell their story. When individuals are telling their story it's not just about the words. Actively listen to see if you can tell what’s behind their words.
2. Don't let emotions escalate. If you've come in on a conflict, emotions are usually already running high. Work to keep exchanges respectful and to keep individuals from talking over one another.
3. Clarify. Use questions to clarify and simplify the problem. For example, “Bob, what particular issue has you most concerned?”
4. Joint Solution. Instead of jumping in with a solution, it's ideal if you can help the parties come to a mutual solution. Ask each what could be done to solve the problem and see if there is some middle ground.
5. Leave with an answer. Leave employees with solutions that they have agreed to work on. Don't let them walk away with problems unresolved.
Co-workers, just like family, are going to run into conflicts. And a healthy family knows how to resolve its conflicts.
Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor--with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.