When people work together – whether in a small office or a large company – it is inevitable that disputes or conflicts will arise from time to time. While disputes will vary in sensitivity depending on the issue at hand, what matters most is how each situation is handled and the lessons learnt from each.

Disputes mostly arise as a result of divergent opinions and views on certain matters. When they happen, leaders and managers need to step up and manage the conflict before things get out of hand instead of trying to prevent disagreements.

When not handled properly, workplace conflicts could lead to employee absences (as people will avoid coming into the office), loss in morale, reduced productivity, employee departures; and, in the worst case scenario, legal action from the aggrieved individual. It’s, therefore, important that leaders understand how to manage conflict for the organisation to achieve its goals.

Here are 5 steps to follow when resolving disputes:

  1. Choose your moment. Trying to fix a heated situation immediately will usually not yield the best results. That’s because emotions are quite high at that particular moment which means logic has pretty much gone out the window. Give the disputants some time to cool off, clear their minds, and collect their thoughts before attempting to resolve the dispute.
  1. Get to the root of the matter. Before anything else, you need to understand where the disputing is stemming from. The more information you can gather about the cause of the problem, the better equipped you will be to handle it. Call each of the concerned parties aside and listen to their side of the story and ask questions that will help you find the source of the conflict.

As a mediator, you should remain neutral as you talk to all the parties and avoid making premature judgements. Make sure you remain impartial throughout the entire process and if you are too close to the issue to do so, let someone else handle the matter.

  1. Ask for solutions. After listening to the viewpoints of each party, the next step is to ask each disputant to suggest a good solution for the problem. Ensure that the participants keep away from finger pointing at this point and instead focus on resolving the dispute. Write down suggestions and avoid passing any judgement at this point until you consider all the alternatives brought forward.

Make sure you tell the affected employees the criteria you will use when evaluating options so that everyone is on the same page.

  1. Identify solutions that all parties can get behind. When evaluating your options, choose the ones that will be most acceptable to the concerned parties. Discuss the solutions you select in a meeting with all the parties and make sure to highlight the merits of the ideas you have selected, not only from their perspective, but also in terms of how the organisation will benefit.
  2. The final step of the process is agreement. Once the disputants have heard and understood the solutions you have chosen, get them to shake hands on the matter and agree to move forward with the accepted solutions.

Disputes might be inevitable, but when managed well, they provide employees with an opportunity to growth and learn more about themselves and each other.