Resolving Conflict: How to Manage Difficult Workplace Conversations

July 07, 2015

Most employers will acknowledge that occasional conflict in the workplace is typical. In fact, conflict can even be constructive when employees respectfully discuss their differing opinions.conflict resolution in the workplace

However, there are times when employees cannot resolve conflicts amongst themselves, and it is necessary for management to step in and help alleviate what could be a serious workplace issue.

Whatever the underlying reason may be – poor work performance, personality clashes, or dissatisfaction with a job – it is imperative for management to approach the situation with understanding and neutrality.

Before any dialogue occurs, it is critical for managers to determine the exact nature of the issue and prepare for both the worst and best possible outcome in advance of the conversation.

Following are some tips for managing a successful intervention:

Make it a scheduled meeting.

Serious discussions should never be impromptu because it may give the impression that the conversation is not important to the manager. Also, be sure to set aside plenty of time for the meeting, so neither party feels rushed or under additional pressure.

Carefully introduce the conversation.

It should be clear from the beginning why the conversation is taking place. An example includes: “I understand you are having difficulty with X, and I want to work with you to find a solution.” The tone should always be non-accusatory and the message should indicate that a resolution is always the end goal.

Remain focused and communicate clearly.

Oftentimes when an individual has to convey negative news, but feels uncomfortable about doing so, he or she will deviate from the topic and lose sight of the issue at hand. Remain focused on resolving the conflict rather than giving in to a change of conversation to ease an awkward situation.

Listen impartially.

There are two sides to every situation, so it is essential to allow those involved to openly express views and feelings, even if one disagrees. Managers should not take sides; rather find a solution that is as mutually beneficial as possible.

Manage emotions.

The employee receiving negative news may respond with anger or tears. It is important to remain calm and not respond in the same manner. Unchecked emotions can escalate an already difficult conversation.

End with a clear resolution and next steps.

There is no point in having a conversation that does not lead to resolution. Be sure that the parties involved understand the key issues, steps needed to resolve the issues, and management’s expectations. Planning a follow-up meeting may be useful in some instances.

While no one enjoys having difficult conversations with employees, it is necessary to resolve conflicts and move forward for the sake of office morale and productivity. By clearly defining the issue, preparing in advance for the conversation and articulating expectations, these conversations can lead to a satisfying outcome for everyone.

Topics: Business Best Practices, Management, Human Resources

Kay Oder


Kay Oder has owned six companies, has been a resource to thousands to businesses and brought solutions to help business owners minimize risk, improve business performance and navigate today’s highly regulated and complex “business of being an employer”.

Today, Kay uses the insights gained throughout her career as a speaker, business owner and business advisor. Audiences enjoy her candid, informed perspective on HR related topics as well as her razor-sharp southern wit.

Kay is also a Certified Business Performance Advisor with Insperity, the $2.6 billion business performance solutions provider she has called home since 1993. Kay has consistently been among the company’s top producers during her 20 plus years with the organization, earning Insperity’s highest honors, including the Top Volume, Circle of Excellence and the Chairman’s Club awards.

Prior to Insperity, Kay was the President and Co-founder of Texas Valve Specialists, a supplier in the oil and gas industry. She has also owned companies in the construction, demolition, machining and promotional apparel arenas. She spent four years as a client of Insperity and upon selling her last venture, joined the Insperity team.

From an early age Kay demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, beginning at age six when she sold cantaloupes from her parents’ front yard, which she offered three for fifty-cents, with a free puppy.

Kay and her husband, Dale, relocated to Austin from the Houston area in 1996 when a theft occurred in their family: their granddaughter was born and stole their hearts, so they had to follow.

Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 30 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. Insperity® Business Performance Advisors offer the most comprehensive suite of products and services available in the marketplace. Insperity delivers administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity through its premier Workforce Optimization® solution. Additional company offerings include Human Capital Management, Payroll Services, Time and Attendance, Performance Management, Organizational Planning, Recruiting Services, Employment Screening, Financial Services, Expense Management, Retirement Services and Insurance Services. Insperity business performance solutions support more than 100,000 businesses with over 2 million employees. With 2016 revenues of $2.9 billion, Insperity operates in 61 offices throughout the United States. For more information, call 800-465-3800 or visit

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