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six tips for dealing with employee disputes:

By Shari Barnes


Ed and Sally have a problem. As their manager, you have the right to impose a solution, but past experience tells you that employees will come up with their own solution if you allow them to work it out with a little mediation assistance from you. Before you tackle the Ed/Sally problem, review these steps for maintaining objectivity.

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR BIASES AND PUT THEM ASIDE. Don’t bring your own baggage into dispute resolution.


  2. APPROACH CONFLICT RESOLUTION WITH AS LITTLE INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE. Do not investigate beforehand. You aren’t a detective, and playing Sherlock Holmes is a waste of time at this point. Remember, this is Sally and Ed’s problem, and they have all the information you need.


  3. STEP OUT OF THE BOSS/SUPERVISOR/MANAGER ROLE. Resist the power trip. Sally and Ed won’t talk openly, brainstorm, or negotiate if you take an authority position.


  4. ACTIVELY SEEK TO BALANCE POWER BETWEEN PARTICIPANTS. While Sally and Ed are peers on the organizational chart, you know Sally’s assertiveness frightens Ed. If Sally’s verbal skills dominate, you can help Ed find equal time. Establish guidelines, which allow each disputant a turn. Then, when you see Ed getting lost in Sally’s dust, tactfully remind her that it’s Ed’s turn to speak.


  5. REMEMBER THAT YOUR OPINION IS NOT THE ISSUE. As you listen to Ed and Sally, you form opinions. And you may be tempted to interject them. It’s OK to provide reality checks for the disputants, but it’s rarely appropriate to state an opinion.


  6. REFRAIN FROM IMPOSING SOLUTIONS ON THE DISPUTANTS. Exercise patience. Let them come up with their own agreement.

    Don’t fall into the judge, arbitrator, parent, or social worker snare. You have the right to demand resolution to employee disputes, and sometimes you must make arbitrary decisions for the organization’s benefit. But before you take that step, remember that the results of mediation are often more effective than managerial edicts. Try it!


Finally, don’t forget to review Ed and Sally’s MindData evaluations. Knowing the real character of each personality may help you retain an unbiased and realistic view.



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Sharon (Shari) Eurich Barnes is Director of Employee Relations for Texas Christian University. Complementing her human resource career, Ms. Barnes writes for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Working Mother, Women as Managers and Management Review. She also conducts private and court-ordered mediations.

In addition to hosting Books in Review on cable television, Ms. Barnes speaks on employment issues for professional associations and conferences.

Ms. Barnes received her Bachelor's degree from California Baptist University and Master's degree from Texas Christian University. Among other affiliations, she is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, American Society for Training and Development, American Association of University Women, Fort Worth Human Resource Association Board of Directors (past), College and University Personnel Association, Fort Worth Mayor's Committee for Disabled Persons, and Tarrant County Association of Mediators Board of Directors. Ms. Barnes has also been named to Who's Who Among American Women.

Comments and questions about this article: Shari Barnes.



The opinions expressed in articles by this author do not necessarily represent the opinions of MindData. These articles are provided as a means of informing you of current events and opinions that impact employers and the workplace.


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