This is a guest blog I wrote earlier this year.  It’s worth re-posting.

Workplace conflict resolution is a process for managing conflict in the workplace and resolving the business problems that result from the conflict.  Why should you manage conflict in the workplace?  Because unmanaged and unresolved employee conflict is arguably one of the largest reducible costs in organizations today.

It is estimated that 60% of voluntary terminations result from unresolved workplace conflict, giving rise to the costs associated with turnover and the loss of institutional knowledge.

Consider the following scenario: Susan and Tim are members of a team that is responsible for writing a monthly report upon which management relies.  For reasons that Janet, their manager, has not been able to figure out, Susan and Tim are not getting along at work. For the past two months, the conflict has taken time out of the work day for Susan, Tim and Janet. Now Susan and Tim’s heated discussions have been seen by other employees, causing morale issues, especially with the other members of Susan and Tim’s team. How would your organization handle this conflict?  Would you cross your fingers and hope the manager has the skills needed to resolve the conflict?  Would the manager make one unsuccessful attempt to resolve the conflict and then terminate one or both employees?

To be effective, workplace conflict resolution must have two components: 1) training employees about conflict resolution skills; and 2) implementation of a conflict resolution policy at the workplace.

Conflict resolution can be based on different theories or methods.  One is not necessarily better than another, but whichever method you choose to implement in your organization should be research-based and have a good track record.

Training employees in the basics of conflict resolution is crucial for the success of any workplace conflict resolution program.  Rarely, if ever, do children or adults receive any formal training in conflict resolution. Training equips people with new and more effective tools to resolve conflict.  Employees can be trained in self-mediation, a simple process in which an employee directly initiates a conflict resolution discussion with another employee.  Or, employees such as human resources professionals or managers can be trained to conduct third-party resolution in the workplace.  In third-party resolution the manager or human resources professional serves as a mediator for the employees who are in dispute.

The second component (i.e., implementation of a conflict resolution policy) must be put in place for conflict resolution to become a part of the culture of the organization.  There must be a clear procedure for a manager or employee to initiate workplace conflict resolution and an established process once the initial request has been made.

The process should be triggered at the earliest possible point in the conflict.  Early intervention has the highest likelihood of success.

An employer’s policy may provide for an internal mediator or an outside mediator who the employees in dispute may see as neutral.  The circumstances of the conflict will control which arrangement is preferable.

If an organization is committed to making conflict resolution part of the culture of the organization, the return will be a workplace where employees feel empowered to address conflict early in a productive manner and to solve business problems as they arise.  A workplace environment in which employees can address their disputes respectfully and effectively will go a long way in helping an organization to attract and retain top talent.