“I have two employees who can’t stand each other—for no reason
other than they don’t like how the other works. They can’t seem to
resolve it themselves, and I’m not sure what to do at this point.”
“A new employee just came up to me to express that my other
employees are shutting them out. They go out to lunch and don’t invite
the new employee, and aren’t being very kind when showing how things
work. I don’t know what to do here.”
“Recently, I had an employee argue with one of my managers over how
we store our files. I tried to have them resolve it on their own, but they
couldn’t seem to talk without getting mad. What do I do?”
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and even though we wish it were
as simple as telling your employees to resolve it on their own, often you
as a leader need to get involved to guide your team back to where they
should be. However, the biggest question is: What do you do?
Attack the conflict, not the people involved
The process can be frustrating, but it’s important to face it head-on.
When left to its own accord, conflict can quickly morph into all sorts of
problems, including becoming a team sport where people and even entire
departments dig in and take sides. Once sides are taken, a split can occur
that affects the workplace at every level.
Conflict can be driven by a single person or a group of people. It can
arise professionally from differences in opinions or work styles, or simply
from working in close proximity to others. It can also—and almost always
does—have some kind of interpersonal component.
Because conflict is inevitable and often personal,
it’s important to address it promptly and
constructively to prevent it from escalating and
damaging relationships and productivity. We’ve
all been in situations within our own workplace
(or someone else’s) where the tension is palpable.
Make no mistake—your patients can feel
Download a free guide
resolving workplace conflict!
CEDR Solutions has created a free downloadable guide just
for Townies that will help practice owners and managers
analyze the risk involved with workplace conflict and take
steps to address it with confidence. Click here to download.
Define your company culture—it helps you manage
Your company’s cultural foundation is built on
three primary components, which we call “the
three pillars of company culture.” These are your
company’s core values, purpose and mission.
- Core values can be applied inward and
outward when refined and done well. Topics
like commitment to professional communication,
innovation, focusing on the
problem and not the person, never speaking
poorly about your customers, being willing
to accept change, and thinking about solutions
rather than just the problem are just
a few examples of good quality core values.
- The second pillar, purpose, is what inspires
you and your team to do the work you do.
It is the reason why you exist. Ask and
answer: What would be missing from your
community if your company suddenly
disappeared tomorrow? Would there be less
access to treatment for kids or fewer options
for the care you provide because your doors
- Your mission, meanwhile, is where the
needs of your business and the needs of
your team meld to accomplish short- and
long-term business-related goals. It connects
the work each employee does to your
purpose and provides a singularly focused
direction for the business. It can help you
focus on what matters, acting like a North
Star for your employees to follow.
When you establish a system and put your culture
up for every current and future employee to
see, it allows you to implement cultural systems
that guide your employees to what is expected
of them throughout the course of their employment
and, as a result, will help make managing
(including managing conflict) easier.
Example: If you have a core value of “respecting
each other’s time,” this provides a shared basis
and value that helps you have an objective conversation
about how tardiness, absenteeism or leaving
early affects the team or the practice goals.
Informing your employees of your core values,
mission and purpose will set the tone right from
the beginning about what you expect within
your business. Plus, they won’t be surprised if
their course is corrected down the line based on
those principles. Your core values, for instance,
can help you have tough conversations with
employees when they miss the mark and start
Subjective vs. objective feedback
To reiterate our main guidance surrounding
workplace conflict: Attack the problem, not
Balancing your subjective observations with
objective documentation is key to getting to
the root of most issues and documenting what’s
going on in a manner that best protects your
practice. Always remember that everything
you write down in notes or communicate to
an employee needs to be written with a jury
This highlights the need for your notes and anything in employee
files to reflect a tone of professionalism and address job-related issues
in as objective a manner as possible.
- Subjective feedback is rooted in personal opinions, feelings,
beliefs or interpretations. It’s based on individual perspectives
and can be influenced by personal biases, cultural backgrounds
and past experiences. This feedback varies from person to person
and tends to be more generalized.
- Objective feedback, meanwhile, is based on facts, data or
evidence—it can be measured, quantified and verified independently.
This feedback is considered more reliable and effective
when focusing on the problem, and also reflects professionalism
when others see the employee’s files.
Here’s an example of the difference between objective and subjective
statements and how you might approach giving feedback with them
- Subjective: “The employee is being irresponsible and is showing
she does not care about her team or the patients.”
- Objective: “The employee has left early eight out of the past 12
shifts, even after being asked to stay for closing so the entire
team can leave together. When doctors come in, they notice that
patient notes are not in the record from the previous day’s visit.”
In short, objective observations are based on facts and data that
can be verified, while subjective observations are based on individual
opinions and personal experiences. Both types of observations have
their advantages and disadvantages, and a balanced approach that
incorporates both can lead to better decision-making and understanding
in various situations.
Addressing conflict risk levels
As a business owner or manager trying to
resolve a conflict between others, stepping in
to resolve something or correct a course also
means you have to assess and be aware of the
risks posed to the business. Knowing the risk
can inform your actions.
If you’re faced with workplace conflict, figure
out which risk zone it lands in before you start
solving it. At CEDR Solutions, we break the
assessment down into three sections. Depending
upon your assessment, you’ll formulate a
plan to resolve the conflict while speaking with
everyone involved—and you’ll need to do a
little investigating, because nothing is ever as it
seems up front.
- Conflict that does not violate a policy:
Everyone is being somewhat professional;
they just see things differently. This happens
a lot over communication, preference
with how things are organized, people feeling
territorial or overlooked, and “cliques.”
It can also manifest because the person
responsible for knowledge transfer or training
is not actually trained to do that.
- Conflict that does violate a policy: One
or more people are acting unprofessionally.
Subjectively, their behavior is somewhat
bullying. It does not align with your
culture and, ultimately, the conflict is
crushing things such as reaching goals,
creativity, getting better outcomes, and
supporting a professional and pleasant
place to work.
- Conflict that violates the law: It’s gone
beyond interpersonal, and violates policy
and has the potential to be a violation of
the law. This happens as harassment—
name calling, physical threats and treating
someone differently because of age, race,
religion, national origin, etc.
Working toward resolution
So, what do you do when workplace conflict is
still present after you’ve talked it through with
those involved, documented your process and
tried to reconcile?
Of course, the steps you take differ with each
risk level of conflict, but often, conflict lands in
the low- to medium-risk range (a conflict that
does not violate policy or the law). If you believe
your conflict is a higher risk, be sure to work
with an HR expert or contact an employment
law attorney to help you through it.
You have some different options of paths you
can take to ensure there is a resolution:
- Frequent check-ins. If no immediate
action needs to be taken, setting a time
to check back in can be a powerful game
plan. This allows everyone some time and
space to process what was discussed, and
also allows you to observe and gather facts.
Importantly, it still addresses the issue,
because you haven’t “dropped off” on the
process. Celebrate small improvements
with each employee, and offer corrections
if the issue is not progressing to resolution.
- Delegate it back to the employees. Ask
them to devise three steps they think others
can take to solve the conflict. This gets
buy-in and can help you frame the issue
so everyone speaks the same language.
When employees have bought into their
own solution, it’s more difficult for them to
say the outcome wasn’t what they wanted.
When they’re part of the process, they’re
more likely to want their ideas to succeed.
- Issue corrective coaching. Sometimes
this is necessary for one or both parties,
especially if their actions fall outside of
your core values. For example, your team
values teamwork, professionalism and a
patient-focused mindset. If you’re seeing
workplace conflicts that are outside
of these values, ask your employees to
self-correct their behavior to get back into
compliance with those values. Corrective
coaching can include a verbal or written
warning, up to termination, if the
Workplace conflicts between employees are disruptive
and damaging to productivity, morale
and the organization’s overall success.
However, focusing on purpose, mission and
core values as a basis for correcting course can
help you manage these conflicts effectively.
Focusing on those three pillars of company
culture encourages open communication and
transparency, which allows conflicting parties
to share their perspectives and work together to
find a resolution consistent with the organization’s
values and goals.
This approach fosters a culture of respect and
trust, creating a more positive and supportive
work environment that benefits all employees.
By embracing these key principles, the smallest
and largest businesses can build stronger
teams, improve productivity and create a
culture of excellence that benefits everyone
Paul Edwards is the CEO and co-founder of CEDR
Solutions, a leading provider of on-demand
HR support for dental practices of all sizes and
specialties across the United States. With more than
25 years of experience as a manager and business
owner, Edwards is well known throughout the dental
and health care communities for his expertise when
it comes to helping owners and managers effectively
solve HR problems and enhance their management
skill set. He provides regular HR guidance on his blog
and podcast at cedrsolutions.com.