A trio of work colleagues sits around a conference room table. The two facing the camera -- a woman in glasses and a young man -- both look irate. They are gesturing and speaking with impatient and displeased looks on their faces. On the far left, facing them, is a young woman with her hair in a ponytail and her hands folded on the table.
When you're trying to get to the core issue of the employee disagreement, make sure to practice active listening and get the full story from the perspectives of all involved. — Getty Images/fizkes

Disagreements are inevitable in the workplace. And healthy debate can be a good thing: It shows that employees are passionate about their work and willing to push each other to think outside the box. However, when an employee disagreement impedes productivity or creates a hostile work environment, you will need to step in to moderate the conflict. Here are some steps to take to make sure your work environment is inclusive and supportive of everyone.

[Read more: How to Resolve Workplace Conflict and Build a Better Business]

Listen to both sides

Make sure you’re giving all parties space to make their position heard. Sit down one-on-one with each person involved in the disagreement to hear more about their point of view. Often, this might mean letting someone vent their frustration until they’re able to calm down and give you more useful details. Practice active listening and avoid interrupting someone until they feel they are fully heard. The more details you have, the easier it will be to find a solution that fits everyone’s needs.

Figure out the core issue

Don’t expect your employees to agree with each other all the time. In fact, healthy disagreement can benefit your business. “When you and your coworkers push one another to continually ask if there’s a better approach, that creative friction is likely to lead to new solutions,” wrote Harvard Business Review.

However, it’s important to make sure each employee disagreement is truly productive. If a discussion verges on becoming rude or disrespectful, it’s time to step in more forcefully and manage the problem. As you listen to both sides of the argument, try to figure out if the disagreement is rooted in a personal issue or is simply the result of differing points of view. The former will require a different approach than two employees having a healthy debate.

Help your team find common ground

When a disagreement escalates, it can lead to two people “turning away” from each other, meaning each person closes off and can’t hear the other person’s perspective. Employees who disconnect won’t be able to hear one another’s ideas and come to a resolution that works for the team at large.

When managed properly, disagreement is healthy in an organization.

If you see this happening, encourage your employees to remember they are on the same team. Help them recognize that it’s important to the company that they work together, and their actions have a bigger impact than this one disagreement. Focus on the big picture to help diffuse the situation and put your team back on track toward finding a compromise.

Rely on your employee handbook

If the discussion has veered into the realm of disrespect, then it’s time to step up your moderation. Your employee handbook should include a code of conduct that every team member has agreed to follow. This code of conduct outlines how you will enforce an inclusive, respectful work environment for each individual. If you feel someone is potentially violating this code of conduct, create a paper trail documenting the steps you take to moderate the disagreement, along with any complaints from other members of your team.

Consider getting legal advice if things are getting out of hand. Issues of harassment or discrimination warrant consulting an employment lawyer who can help you figure out how to proceed.

[Read more: Employee Handbook Templates for Your Small Business]

Focus on the future

Instead of focusing on what went wrong, bring everyone together to figure out how to move forward. Talk about how you can solve the problem that caused the original disagreement. Encourage the two individuals to agree on a compromise that puts the company first, rather than their own beliefs.

“Instead of focusing on what went wrong or who should have prevented a mistake, talk about what can be done to solve the problem and keep it from happening again in the future,” wrote Indeed. “Companies can look at the past to analyze exactly what went wrong, but resolving the existing problem should be your first priority.”

When managed properly, disagreement is healthy in an organization. Make sure everyone feels heard, valued, and supported—and protect your work discussions from veering into negativity. By reminding everyone they’re on the same team, you can have productive debates that result in new ideas and better business outcomes.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 16, 2022