Jerry Osteryoung: Conflict Management continued

December 27, 2013 

The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

In my last column, I spoke in detail about what causes conflict. This week, I will cover how to deal with it.

Conflict management is one of those things that every manager has to deal with in their career. Bring enough people together and there will be conflict, no matter what environment you have created.

There is no getting around dealing with conflict. If ignored, conflict quickly spirals out of control and affects your creditability as a manager. When you do nothing or are unable to resolve conflict, your staff assumes you are not an effective manager.

The moment conflict arises, your first step is to talk with each party individually. Never, ever bring both parties in together at this stage. The point here is to give everyone a chance to air their grievance. If you bring everyone together, the situation could erupt.

The best strategy in these individual meetings is to do more listening than talking. Putting your listening skills into play here is the only way you will be able to find out what is really going on. We only learn if we listen.

It is important you take careful notes so that accurate records may be maintained for legal reasons. The more notes you take, the better.

As you listen to both sides, try not to lose your cool. Find out as much as you can about the situation and try not to make any assumptions about who is right or wrong. In these situations, there is rarely a

completely right party and a completely wrong one. Most often there are issues on both sides, and it is your job as the manager and leader to figure out what is causing the problem and how to resolve it.

Hopefully, if you have listened carefully during this phase, you will be able to define the problem, which puts you far ahead. Sometimes the issue is jealousy. Other times it is just a lack of respect between employees.

Once you have identified what you feel the problem is, the next step is for both parties to agree with your assessment. From there, have them develop a plan for dealing with it. In essence, I get them to figure out the solution, and I find this approach works really well in the majority of cases.

In the next step, my role is mediator. Each person presents their solution and I help them work their ideas into an arrangement they both can agree upon and establish a timeline.

Occasionally hardheadedness makes its way into this phase and neither side shows any inclination to compromise. When this happens, I carefully explain to them the consequences of not working things out, which is normally enough to encourage them to cooperate and come up with a solution that is amenable to both sides.

Some managers find the simplest way to resolve a conflict between employees is to move one to another department. I find this solution usually works well, but it is not always a feasible option. Sometimes the business or department is too small for such a move.

By all means, consult with your HR department in any conflict. They have plenty of experience dealing with these issues and will be able to help you work through them.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at

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