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How To Deal With Conflict At the Workplace

Conflict solving
Internal Communication

13 May, 2020

Stefan Gruber, VP of Engineering at Bitmovin, shares how he successfully mediated the conflict between two of his employees.

Problem

Some years ago I encountered a situation where two of my employees were not talking to each other. Both were convinced that only their opinion is valid and both believed that they are always right. Their relationship radiated tension that negatively affected the whole team, not just two of them who were directly involved. Naturally, when people work together, from time to time disagreements occur. But they should be addressed timely and adequate efforts should be made to resolve the conflict.
 

Actions taken

I was unaware of the problem until one of my two employees approached me and told me how difficult it was for him to work with the other employee. I immediately approached both of them and initiated a conversation about the problem. Both were repeating over and over again how the other person was impossible to work with. Soon after, the situation escalated and they ended up quarreling very loud in a packed office. I had to invite them in a separate room to continue the conversation as I noticed the negative spillover effect their communication had.
 

In a separate room, I sat between two of them trying to spatially suggest that I will mediate their conversation. I was interested to learn about the causes of their conflict and allowed each of them to talk about the difficulties they were having with each other. I had to be very strict in facilitating their interaction as they tended to interrupt each other and didn’t listen carefully to what the other person was saying. It was not easy as both were very emotional and often lacked a rational perspective.
 

After hearing both sides I tried to find some common ground and list some things they could agree upon. I summarized key points and let them think about them from the other person’s perspective. This was the most difficult part as they had a hard time stepping down from their pedestal of righteousness. It seemed to me that if only they were to make one step forward towards the common ground, the conflict could be easily resolved. I asked them if they were willing to make it and both agreed. From then on, everything was much easier.
 

Lessons learned

  • Conflicts in the workplace eventually occur. Reasons for can be manifold -- conflict of interests, values, priorities, etc. but they need to be addressed timely.
  • The mediation process should take part in a separate room where two conflicting parties are separated and the process is facilitated by an impartial third person.
  • The most valuable piece of advice is to put yourself in another person’s shoes and try to understand his/her perspective.

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