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How to Resolve Conflict Between Manager and Employee

When conflict breaks out between an employee and their employer, few things can be as stressful. Because this particular brand of conflict includes someone in the leadership role, interventions often need to come from outside party. Learning how to resolve conflict between manager and employee is important for anyone hoping to undertake a leadership role. Even if you haven’t made your way to the promotion, exhibiting your leadership skills in this particular scenario can get you on the radar of those who can make it happen.

Figuring out how to resolve conflict between manager and employee sometimes requires on-the-job training. In other words, you might not know what to do until the stress is high and someone needs to intervene. If this is the case in your current workplace, follow these steps or reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems for professional support getting your workplace running smoothly again.

1. Release your Biases

Your biases and subjective opinion can likely only make things worse in a workplace conflict, especially one that may include your peer and your boss. In order to help quell some of the tension, you can coach the disputing parties through stages of solution which include:

  • Avoiding or disengaging from the problem instead of adding to it
  • Accommodating each person’s need without unbalanced focus on one over the other
  • Compromising on a resolution
  • Collaborating on a solution

2. Active Listening

Listening and active listening are two different things. We listen all the time but it doesn’t mean we’re actually understanding (or expressing understanding to) the other person. Active listening isn’t about deciding what you’ll say next once the other person finally stops talking. In order to actively listen, remove distractions, maintain open body language, offer eye contact, ask questions, give verbal or nonverbal cues that you’re listening, and offer a validating reflection back on the points made from the other person. This will help de-escalate the situation and allow for communication to come forth so a solution can be reached.

3. Exercise Empathy

Whether you’re in the conflict or outside of it trying to manage it, empathy is key. Putting yourself in someone else shoe’s can inherently work wonders on the urge to become combative. Recognizing, respecting, and actively acknowledging the feelings of another person is so important in communication. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their feelings but it means you’ve taken the time to understand their experience, which can help extinguish the flames.

4. Know When to Call HR

Most people don’t want to get HR involved at all, and it shouldn’t be your first approach. But if all other options have been depleted and a resolution is still not in place, complications can arise and reaching out to HR for intervention may become critical. When you make your report to HR, be sure to remain as objective as possible. Report only the facts of the situation, even though it may be tempting to add in your emotional reaction or opinion. Also, note to HR whether or not this type of situation is recurring or if it was just a one-time situation. If you can’t quite crack the code yourself on how to resolve a conflict between manager and employee, don’t stay silent. Use the company’s resources and ask for help.


Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is an anthropologist and conflict resolution consultant in Silicon Valley, but regularly travels between my San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles offices. He focuses on the psychology, social dynamics, and peacebuilding methodologies of interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. MORE

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