10 Steps to Resolve Disputes at Work

February 5, 2016
Resolve Disputes at Work

Imagine a world where nobody argued, fights didn’t exist, and everybody thought everybody else was totally wonderful…

…it’s a nice thought, but it isn’t reality. Unfortunately, people fall out with each other, and sometimes they argue or fight. It happens at home between family members, it happens at the pub between friends, and it certainly happens at work between colleagues.

There can be a lot of reasons why a dispute can happen in the work place. For example, somebody might steal the credit for somebody else’s work. Or it might be as simple as a personality clash!

Either way, the important thing is resolving disputes as they arise, and restoring harmony to your workplace. If you’re an HR professional who wants to become a pro at dispute resolution, then check our 10-step guide below. The steps will provide advice in all areas of dispute resolution – from prevention and planning, to neutralising disputes as they arise.


1. Hire Team Players.

If you want to minimise disputes in your workplace, you’ll need a good balance of skilled workers and great collaborators.

Of course, if you can find people who excel in both areas, great! But don’t be afraid to compromise on ability from time to time if you find a person with great communication and social skills – these people will naturally help to balance to the atmosphere without even trying.

2. Encourage a Mature Attitude to Disagreement

Let’s look at a few ways of helping your staff to ‘police’ themselves when it comes to disagreements.

Now, if you encourage a “tell the teacher” type culture, you’ll end up spending way too much of your time intervening in petty squabbles that could have easily been resolved if the two parties had just decided to talk it out.

Instead, encourage your staff to try to come to a mature resolution between themselves should a disagreement arise – after all, you’ll still be there to mediate if they don’t manage to see eye-to-eye.

3. Provide Dispute Resolution Tools

To help your staff resolve matters on their own – and to help them avoid issues in the first place – it helps if you can create clear, visible guidelines on how they should be acting.

These guidelines should cover things like how staff are expected to treat each other, and could even cover techniques on how to handle disputes if they arise.

4. Teach Negotiation Skills

People who have negotiation skills and the ability to influence others are less likely to be caught in deadlocked conflict.

It’s not a bad idea to add some sort of negotiation skills programme to your existing training roster! And if you feel like it would be the blind leading the blind, then don’t be afraid of bringing in an outside expert to run the training.

5. Create ‘Cool-Down Zones’

Tension is made worse when people can’t escape it. If you’re stressed, annoyed, or even “seeing-red angry”, it won’t help if you feel boxed-in to your cubicle, or surrounded by noise.

Dedicate areas of your working environment where your staff can go to relax, take a break, or even just work free of distraction. This will help potential conflicts cool down before they have chance to really catch fire.

6. Develop a Formal Grievance Policy

You’re required by law to have a written grievance policy. If you don’t have one already, now is a good time to create it.

If you’re struggling with what to include, ACAS provides a lot of generic policies that are free to download and share.

7. Remain Neutral and Objective

So your staff, your workspace and your policies are all prepared – yet you find yourself facing a dispute! (Is it an actual fist fight you’re facing? Follow this advice!)

The first step is to remain neutral and objective. If either of the parties involved believes that you are on the other person’s side, it will undermine the process. If you don’t believe you can remain neutral, you should request a third-party mediator – that’s how important this part is!

8. Find Opportunity in Every Conflict

Conflict can seem scary, but it’s not as bad as it looks. In fact, you can learn a lot from conflict.

Whenever there is a conflict at work, you should see it as an opportunity to better understand two or more conflicting parties, and use what you learn to create a stronger relationship and build on your company’s culture going forward.

As long as you come out the other side with positive lessons learned, then conflict does not equal failure.

9. Make an Example of Unacceptable Behaviour

Look, don’t get me wrong here. I am not suggesting you drag perpetrators out into the street and make a public mockery of them!

However, it is important that you make a point of showing others how you handle conflict, even if it doesn’t involve them. By letting people see that you are tackling unacceptable behaviour, it is sending out a message that you do not approve of it. Letting this kind of behaviour go unchecked could be perceived as tacit approval.

10. Create a Bespoke Conflict Agreement

At the end of any conflict mediation, you should ask each of the parties to state what they would like to happen going forward.

Using this information, you should help them to create a detailed agreement about how they will treat one another going forwards, in order to make the relationship more manageable.

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