Conflict Resolution: Your How-To Guide by Paul Edwards

Conflict Resolution: Your How-To Guide 

by Paul Edwards


“I have two employees who can’t stand each other—for no reason other than they don’t like how the other works. They can’t seem to resolve it themselves, and I’m not sure what to do at this point.”

“A new employee just came up to me to express that my other employees are shutting them out. They go out to lunch and don’t invite the new employee, and aren’t being very kind when showing how things work. I don’t know what to do here.”

“Recently, I had an employee argue with one of my managers over how we store our files. I tried to have them resolve it on their own, but they couldn’t seem to talk without getting mad. What do I do?”

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and even though we wish it were as simple as telling your employees to resolve it on their own, often you as a leader need to get involved to guide your team back to where they should be. However, the biggest question is: What do you do?


Attack the conflict, not the people involved
The process can be frustrating, but it’s important to face it head-on. When left to its own accord, conflict can quickly morph into all sorts of problems, including becoming a team sport where people and even entire departments dig in and take sides. Once sides are taken, a split can occur that affects the workplace at every level.

Conflict can be driven by a single person or a group of people. It can arise professionally from differences in opinions or work styles, or simply from working in close proximity to others. It can also—and almost always does—have some kind of interpersonal component.

Because conflict is inevitable and often personal, it’s important to address it promptly and constructively to prevent it from escalating and damaging relationships and productivity. We’ve all been in situations within our own workplace (or someone else’s) where the tension is palpable. Make no mistake—your patients can feel it too.

Download a free guide to
resolving workplace conflict!
CEDR Solutions has created a free downloadable guide just for Townies that will help practice owners and managers analyze the risk involved with workplace conflict and take steps to address it with confidence. Click here to download.


Define your company culture—it helps you manage

Your company’s cultural foundation is built on three primary components, which we call “the three pillars of company culture.” These are your company’s core values, purpose and mission.

 

  • Core values can be applied inward and outward when refined and done well. Topics like commitment to professional communication, innovation, focusing on the problem and not the person, never speaking poorly about your customers, being willing to accept change, and thinking about solutions rather than just the problem are just a few examples of good quality core values.
  • The second pillar, purpose, is what inspires you and your team to do the work you do. It is the reason why you exist. Ask and answer: What would be missing from your community if your company suddenly disappeared tomorrow? Would there be less access to treatment for kids or fewer options for the care you provide because your doors are closed?
  • Your mission, meanwhile, is where the needs of your business and the needs of your team meld to accomplish short- and long-term business-related goals. It connects the work each employee does to your purpose and provides a singularly focused direction for the business. It can help you focus on what matters, acting like a North Star for your employees to follow.

When you establish a system and put your culture up for every current and future employee to see, it allows you to implement cultural systems that guide your employees to what is expected of them throughout the course of their employment and, as a result, will help make managing (including managing conflict) easier.

Example: If you have a core value of “respecting each other’s time,” this provides a shared basis and value that helps you have an objective conversation about how tardiness, absenteeism or leaving early affects the team or the practice goals.

Informing your employees of your core values, mission and purpose will set the tone right from the beginning about what you expect within your business. Plus, they won’t be surprised if their course is corrected down the line based on those principles. Your core values, for instance, can help you have tough conversations with employees when they miss the mark and start to stray.


Subjective vs. objective feedback

To reiterate our main guidance surrounding workplace conflict: Attack the problem, not the person.

Balancing your subjective observations with objective documentation is key to getting to the root of most issues and documenting what’s going on in a manner that best protects your practice. Always remember that everything you write down in notes or communicate to an employee needs to be written with a jury in mind.

This highlights the need for your notes and anything in employee files to reflect a tone of professionalism and address job-related issues in as objective a manner as possible.

  • Subjective feedback is rooted in personal opinions, feelings, beliefs or interpretations. It’s based on individual perspectives and can be influenced by personal biases, cultural backgrounds and past experiences. This feedback varies from person to person and tends to be more generalized.
  • Objective feedback, meanwhile, is based on facts, data or evidence—it can be measured, quantified and verified independently. This feedback is considered more reliable and effective when focusing on the problem, and also reflects professionalism when others see the employee’s files.

Here’s an example of the difference between objective and subjective statements and how you might approach giving feedback with them in mind:

  • Subjective: “The employee is being irresponsible and is showing she does not care about her team or the patients.”
  • Objective: “The employee has left early eight out of the past 12 shifts, even after being asked to stay for closing so the entire team can leave together. When doctors come in, they notice that patient notes are not in the record from the previous day’s visit.”

In short, objective observations are based on facts and data that can be verified, while subjective observations are based on individual opinions and personal experiences. Both types of observations have their advantages and disadvantages, and a balanced approach that incorporates both can lead to better decision-making and understanding in various situations.


Addressing conflict risk levels
As a business owner or manager trying to resolve a conflict between others, stepping in to resolve something or correct a course also means you have to assess and be aware of the risks posed to the business. Knowing the risk can inform your actions.

If you’re faced with workplace conflict, figure out which risk zone it lands in before you start solving it. At CEDR Solutions, we break the assessment down into three sections. Depending upon your assessment, you’ll formulate a plan to resolve the conflict while speaking with everyone involved—and you’ll need to do a little investigating, because nothing is ever as it seems up front.

  • Conflict that does not violate a policy: Everyone is being somewhat professional; they just see things differently. This happens a lot over communication, preference with how things are organized, people feeling territorial or overlooked, and “cliques.” It can also manifest because the person responsible for knowledge transfer or training is not actually trained to do that.
  • Conflict that does violate a policy: One or more people are acting unprofessionally. Subjectively, their behavior is somewhat bullying. It does not align with your culture and, ultimately, the conflict is crushing things such as reaching goals, creativity, getting better outcomes, and supporting a professional and pleasant place to work.
  • Conflict that violates the law: It’s gone beyond interpersonal, and violates policy and has the potential to be a violation of the law. This happens as harassment— name calling, physical threats and treating someone differently because of age, race, religion, national origin, etc.


Working toward resolution

So, what do you do when workplace conflict is still present after you’ve talked it through with those involved, documented your process and tried to reconcile?

Of course, the steps you take differ with each risk level of conflict, but often, conflict lands in the low- to medium-risk range (a conflict that does not violate policy or the law). If you believe your conflict is a higher risk, be sure to work with an HR expert or contact an employment law attorney to help you through it.

You have some different options of paths you can take to ensure there is a resolution:

  • Frequent check-ins. If no immediate action needs to be taken, setting a time to check back in can be a powerful game plan. This allows everyone some time and space to process what was discussed, and also allows you to observe and gather facts. Importantly, it still addresses the issue, because you haven’t “dropped off” on the process. Celebrate small improvements with each employee, and offer corrections if the issue is not progressing to resolution.
  • Delegate it back to the employees. Ask them to devise three steps they think others can take to solve the conflict. This gets buy-in and can help you frame the issue so everyone speaks the same language. When employees have bought into their own solution, it’s more difficult for them to say the outcome wasn’t what they wanted. When they’re part of the process, they’re more likely to want their ideas to succeed.
  • Issue corrective coaching. Sometimes this is necessary for one or both parties, especially if their actions fall outside of your core values. For example, your team values teamwork, professionalism and a patient-focused mindset. If you’re seeing workplace conflicts that are outside of these values, ask your employees to self-correct their behavior to get back into compliance with those values. Corrective coaching can include a verbal or written warning, up to termination, if the issue persists.


Conclusion
Workplace conflicts between employees are disruptive and damaging to productivity, morale and the organization’s overall success.

However, focusing on purpose, mission and core values as a basis for correcting course can help you manage these conflicts effectively. Focusing on those three pillars of company culture encourages open communication and transparency, which allows conflicting parties to share their perspectives and work together to find a resolution consistent with the organization’s values and goals.

This approach fosters a culture of respect and trust, creating a more positive and supportive work environment that benefits all employees. By embracing these key principles, the smallest and largest businesses can build stronger teams, improve productivity and create a culture of excellence that benefits everyone involved.


 
Flint Geier Paul Edwards is the CEO and co-founder of CEDR Solutions, a leading provider of on-demand HR support for dental practices of all sizes and specialties across the United States. With more than 25 years of experience as a manager and business owner, Edwards is well known throughout the dental and health care communities for his expertise when it comes to helping owners and managers effectively solve HR problems and enhance their management skill set. He provides regular HR guidance on his blog and podcast at cedrsolutions.com.
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