It’s time to talk about a subject every single person on this planet deals with: conflict.

Whether a hostess, a brewery owner, assistant manager, the president of a country… with seven and a half billion people on Earth, we are going to find ourselves getting in each other’s way. Especially in our industry where we are speaking to so many people throughout the day: we have to be on the ball and ready to go at a pace that less customer-facing industries don’t experience.

How do we create better conflict resolution?

Hello and welcome to the wonderful world of Human Resources (HR). I’ll be your guide today.

Briefly: “conflict resolution” generally refers to procedures for dealing with employee complaints. It can be as simple as, “Where should this new shelf be installed in the bar?” with a discussion between bar staff and a manager or something more formal like progressive disciplinary resolution.

For the most part, at organizations that have these policies or management training in place that includes a strong dose of conflict resolution, employees will see their employer as fair when conflict does arise.

Even the smallest of businesses do best when they have taken the time to learn about conflict resolution behavior and procedure. Depending on the size of your company, you’ll have an employee handbook that lists how work conflicts are to be handled. If you’re at a smaller joint, you probably don’t have a handbook, and the most you need to concern yourself with is documentation from a bureaucratic standpoint. The rest will be on you as another person and as a manager/owner to guide the conflict from there.

To educate yourself further, I highly recommend checking out Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Let’s start with a situation many of us have experienced in some form:

An employee has been disgruntled for awhile. Some of them are their own personal issues, some of them are legitimate problems from the company.

The biggest problem for the company is the way they express their issues openly and with hostility. Multiple employees have approached you and other managers about this employee’s attitude. You’ve noticed a drop in other employees’ work behavior, and even the other managers seem reluctant to be around the bar for long. You’ve even experienced this negativity directed at yourself and guests. Something has to be done.

The employee has great technical abilities. They are organized and clean well. When they aren’t bad-mouthing guests or bullying employees, they seem to be okay, but most of that is when they are working alone. Their interview was fine, and they came with management experience as well. Nothing in the interview or on paper was off, and their training also went off without a hitch. Yet, you have conflict. How do you solve it?

Tip 1: Start Listening and Learning

When an employee is creating negativity like this employee, you have to move fast, and you have to be respectful not just to the company, but the employee. It’s not about your personal feelings, but about the professional atmosphere that the owner and management are in charge of maintaining.

Remember the employee is a human too. Validate their frustration and anger. “I hear you on this. I know I’m not behind the bar as much as you. Can we go talk about this in private/a different time (provide a specific time so they know you mean it)?” We all know the stereotype that management doesn’t help employees and is only out for covering their own asses. Prove this wrong. Even if all the employees point at the one hostile employee, remember it is a team.

One person may be mostly in the wrong, but it doesn’t excuse bad or fearful communication by all, especially management.

Tip 2: Don’t Gossip

Try not to engage in hearsay and gossip with other management or employees while getting to the bottom of things. You’ve spoken to the hostile employee and affected parties and heard them out.

If it’s personal issues, you aren’t their therapist and can’t give them advice on things outside of work, but you can let them know their personal life is affecting the work place and you’ve noticed it and are concerned for them.

Don’t go sharing what you’ve learned with others even if other employees ask about what’s going on. While they may be affected by the hostile employee, that doesn’t give them the right to know what was said or exactly how it is being handled.

Tip 3: Document Everything

Partly because it’s helpful with unemployment laws, and it establishes order for others down the road. Document conversations you have.

By the way, documentation goes both ways—employees, you can document too. I highly recommend employees document situations as well in case you do end up with job loss. The more information you can supply the unemployment office, the more likely you’ll see some kind of restitution. Paperwork isn’t thrilling for anyone, but it is the best way to deal with the system currently in place.

These three tips are just some ways to create conflict resolution policy. You’ll find most conflict resolution policy progresses something like this: a talk (not necessarily documented), a verbal warning, a written warning, a final warning/suspension, and finally, letting the employee go. Often these can be jumped around depending on the conflict, but with behavioral issues, this kind of progressive action allows all parties to be human and grow and learn in this experience.

On a personal note, empathy and compassion go a long way, even with employees who aren’t thrilled with you and the company.

I’ve learned that dealing with situations like the one above should not result in outright firing as the best way to handle work conflict. That doesn’t mean that sometimes firing someone is the best solution to conflict, but try to make it the last resort after all other options have happened/been considered. It’s extra money and work to have to fire, hire, and retrain someone and get them to the level you need. Not to mention turnover can impact team morale and company culture. It’s less of a headache, and definitely less costly, to sit down with the employee, with the team, and with your boss (unless you are the head honcho), to get a better idea of what’s going on.

The hardest part of it all? Getting them to trust in the process and in you. All of us have worked with people and management who haven’t had our backs. Who have said, “You can tell me anything”, and that has turned into work retaliation or discrimination. You have to address that real fear and validate that your employees might not be okay with speaking up in a group setting. Part of keeping work conflict at a minimum is being invested in your employees and your management team as individuals from day one.

Have questions or comments about conflict resolution policy, a story to share, or HR matters? Let us know in the comments section below.


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