Where human interactions are concerned, display of volatile emotions is common even in offices. Angry situations at workplace, where a rift between colleagues or between superiors and juniors snowball into serious issues are fairly common.
However, to defuse such situations one needs a completely opposite demeanor-calm handling, patience, and a serious attempt at conflict resolution is required. When an issue is building up in the office which has the potential to snowball into a conflict situation between two employees, an effort should be made to address the issue right then before it becomes a larger issue. A smaller issue is always better and easier to sort out than a larger one.
Plus, it also saves a lot of acrimony at the workplace which can carry on for a long time between employees. Even the small issues have to be dealt with a lot of maturity, understanding and patience. Any such issue should be actively addressed, without any proclivity to favour one against another. Getting both the parties on the table and listening to the issue with neutral perspective is the appropriate approach.
All facts and details must be found out. Without knowing the reason of half-baked information will only worsen the situation. Any decision as to what is to be done to diffuse the situation has to be firmly based on facts. Having done this, all the efforts must be focused towards finding a common ground, bringing the conflicting parties together to confront the issue and negative sentiments that may persist even after the resolution.
Care must also be taken that the issue is not being resolved and a corrective action is being suggested to the employee in the presence of other employees. It should be kept private in a closed room meeting. Keeping it public will only worsen as the employee who is told to take the corrective steps will feel embarrassed and may not even undertake the suggested corrective action as a mark of defiance. If the two individuals are beyond reconciliation, solutions such as putting them in different teams or departments would do more good.
At the same time, if any of the parties are found at fault, strong action must be taken against the individual. If one employee is found to be engaged in similar confrontation with many other employees, then that particular employee has to be dealt in a different way and has to be counseled patiently over a period of time.
If this employee still does not show any improvement, then should be relieved for the duties. It is important to set up Grievance Redressal mechanisms within the organisation to prevent disputes from becoming major controversies. Organisations need to be strict and enforce Zero Tolerance towards any kind of verbal, physical and visual harassment to avoid unpleasant situation at workplace. Internal complaint committees such as Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Code of Business Conduct should be formulated.
Innovative measures can be put to work like allowing one or more employees to work from home for a few weeks. This will make them take time off from the acrimonious atmosphere that they may be in at the workplace. Harmony at workplace should not be an accidental outcome.
It has to be the result of a conscious effort to stitch together differences and find ways to work together in a cordial and mutually respectful manner.
(The writer is vice- president, HR, Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre)