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How to diffuse conflict and tension

Tension and conflict in the workplace can lead to a drop in company productivity and employee morale. An employer should have a set of guidelines in place to help diffuse office tension and resolve conflict as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Conflict at work can be the result of miscommunication and personality clashes between employees, which can eventually lead to hostility, stress and poor productivity. As a manager, you need to find a workable and consistent solution to diffuse tension and resolve problems.

Once you become aware of an issue between employees, your first step should be to call a meeting with those involved to identify the root of the tension. When the issues are clarified, they can sometimes be resolved very quickly and painlessly.

Schedule one meeting comprised of all parties involved. Holding separate meetings can sometimes fuel the problem. By creating an environment of open communication, you can set the stage for conflict resolution. In this initial period, your main goal is to define the facts.

Ask each employee to state what the problem is from their perspective. Do not allow the other party to interrupt as each person voices their opinion. Do not show any judgment or emotion on your part and avoid looking for solutions at this stage.

Do not allow any arguments during this period, nor should you permit either side to defend their actions or judge the actions of others. This is where you will begin to realize the basis of the tension. Often, one employee may think another is not carrying their share of the workload. Other times, it may be just a personality issue - one person may think the other is not helpful, is condescending, gossips too much or a multitude of other possibilities. During the initial discussions, your only goal is to clarify each side's perception of the issue.

Ask both people about the positive aspects of their relationship. What works when they interact with each other? What do they think the other person does well? By discussing the positive side, you will be able to create a constructive atmosphere and prevent the employees from fixating on the negative aspects.

Ask each person what they need from the other in order to maintain a productive, amicable relationship. Here is where you will begin to brainstorm ideas for resolving the conflict. Since you have already laid the groundwork by discussing the positive, it will be much easier now for both parties to communicate openly, but not angrily.

Take notes about their ideas for resolving the conflict. Listen to both sides with open ears and eyes. Pay attention to both the words and the body language of your employees as they discuss the causes of tension and possible solutions.

Ask both parties what they are willing to change or commit to in order to resolve the problem. Go over the list of what the other person needs in order to maintain a healthy work relationship. Generate strategies that will help achieve the listed aspirations.

Have an open dialogue about the goals and objectives of the work team. Discuss the loss of productivity and impact on the company's bottom line should they not resolve their dispute. Also talk about the positive outcome and benefits of increased productivity, if they resolve the problem.

Clearly define what you need each person to do to resolve the problem. List specific actions and the supporting goals. Reiterate the importance of focusing on the positives and committing to making the relationship work.

Schedule a follow-up meeting in a few weeks to re-evaluate the progress. Summarise what has taken place in this meeting. Repeat what it is that they each want and remind them of what is expected from them. Once again, reinforce the positive attributes that each brings to the work team.

The ability to resolve conflict in the workplace is a crucial managerial skill. Though many companies do not invest much time and money in conflict management, it is imperative they do so because the cost of tension and conflict is oftentimes tremendous.

Other Sources of Workplace Tension

Many times, the demand and conflict of work and family responsibilities can lead to poor productivity, increased absenteeism, high turnover rates and low employee morale.

As an employer or manager, you should be able to offer some solutions to help your employees better manage their work and family duties, and thus relieve tension in the workplace.

Daycare provisions: If possible, provide onsite daycare or a stipend to offset daycare costs for your employees.

Flexible hours: Offer employees the option of coming to work earlier or later to help balance their responsibilities with their children.

Longer lunch: Provide a two-hour lunch period where your employees can meet with their child's school, run errands or otherwise meet family needs.

Shorter work week: A four-day work week will allow parents to spend more time with their children and consequently create a happier and more productive employee.

Family outings: Hold monthly events which involve the families of your employees, such as luncheons, sports events, parties or picnics.

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