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The Road to Conflict Resolution

If you are a leader, you have undoubtedly experienced the frustration of dealing with two employees who are unable to get along with each other. Most often, the disagreements are petty in nature. Nevertheless, they consume your time and exhaust your emotions. Fortunately, it is possible to avoid common intervention mistakes that leave disputing employees disgruntled and their conflicts unresolved.

Conflict-resolution experts advise managers to adopt a facilitator's role when handling employee disputes. Leaders, they say, should serve as mediators and not like judges. Yet surprisingly, recent research reveals that managers largely ignore that advice. Instead, most leaders take charge and determine the outcome of employee disagreements.

Why? Our normal tendency is to view conflicts as problems we need to fix -- after all, that's part of our job. Leaders are supposed to be problem solvers and, as such, are expected to settle issues in ways that best meet the organization's interests. But managers, pressed for time and concerned about fairness, often rush to conclusions that leave everyone unsatisfied while permitting the underlying discord to fester.

Here's a simple technique I successfully used to get employees to reconcile their own disputes. The parent company of the bank where I worked was headquartered 200 miles away from our office. Whenever I had two employees at odds, I put them in a car together and sent them to the head office for a meeting. There's nothing like seven hours in a car to force employees to have a conversation. I figured that they would either kill one another or come back as friends -- or at least friendly. As you might expect, during the long day they eventually found common interests to discuss and forgot about their dispute.

Workplace conflict is inevitable. To address it effectively -- and reduce the frequency of new clashes -- leaders must learn how to intervene effectively and guide disputing workers to their own solutions. When you put employees on the road to fixing their own problems, they will usually find their way back.

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