Conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution: Small-Business Style

A Democrat walks into an office full of Republicans…sounds like it could be the beginning of a joke, right? Well, joke or not, situations like this occur in our workplaces all the time. You might be the only democrat or republican in your office and feel ostracized because of it. Or perhaps you work with a procrastinator and their late delivery of key information is causing you to get behind in your work. Whatever the case may be, people have different personalities, working styles, religious beliefs, political inclinations, and more and these differences can sometimes lead to conflict in the workplace.

Finding resolutions when these situations arise is a tricky but necessary part of the job. In a small business, there are good and bad ways to approach it. Equip yourself and your employees with the tools to resolve conflict by following these tips.

Seek to Understand

Whether the disagreement is between you and an employee or customer, between two employees, or between an employee and a customer, your first step should be to understand the situation from all angles. Seek out each party and try to learn what the root of the conflict is. Is there an unequal distribution of leads between two sales representatives? Is a customer making unreasonable demands? Try to be objective in the beginning and understand the stance of each person.

One way to make sure you’re understanding the stance of each person is practice active listening. When they’re telling you what the conflict is and why it’s upsetting to them, rephrase what they’re saying and confirm that you’re understanding it correctly. It can go something like this, “so what you’re saying is X, Y and Z, is that right?” This helps you to correctly interpret their stance and helps them to feel understood.

Clear Communication is Vital

Be as upfront as possible when clearing up conflicts. In most cases, the communication needs to involve all parties involved in the conflict. To keep the situation from getting out of control, lay some ground rules first (keeping voices at a normal level, no inappropriate language, etc).

If you are trying to get a point across do so in terms of talking about yourself. For example, instead of saying “It’s irresponsible of you to leave a mess in the break room every day,” you could phrase it this way, “I’m frustrated when I’m left to clean up the break room every day.” This allows the other party to understand how you feel and that’s something they can’t argue with.

Go to the Drawing Board

After understanding the conflict and opening dialogue between parties, go to the drawing board. Literally or figuratively, discuss and write down possible resolutions to the conflict. Be open to all ideas at first—shooting down someone’s first idea might keep them from voicing a better resolution later in the meeting.

Once possible resolutions are laid out, try to choose one that allows for a win-win situation where both parties get something they want. This won’t be possible every time, but it’s a good goal to work toward.

Be Discreet and Always Follow Through

In a small business, word can travel quickly. To avoid office gossip, some matters will need to be handled carefully. Try not to involve anyone unless they’re directly involved in the conflict and set the expectation that the situation should remain confidential.

After a conflict has been resolved, take time to follow up with individuals to make sure they’re moving forward with the resolution and not harboring resentment. If assignments or challenges for improvement were made make sure the respective parties are holding up their end of the bargain. You want to ensure that the conflict is truly resolved and avoid any leftover toxic feelings which can lower your office morale.

Try a Proactive Approach

What to avoid conflict before it begins? Try coaching your employees ahead of time. Take an afternoon and review steps on how employees can resolve conflict between themselves and others before the situation escalates to your level. Teach them to communicate effectively so that misunderstandings don’t occur. You can hire a third-party presenter or use business books to supplement your instruction.


Rachel writes for Built for Teams - an intuitive HR software solution that was specially designed for the up and coming small business. It includes state of the art features for creating org charts, onboarding new employees, managing paid leave and more. She especially loves to write about tips for small business success by focusing on issues facing business owners and employees in today's business world. Besides writing, Rachel also enjoys spending time with her family and motivating others to succeed.

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