In Dealing With Employee Conflict, Assume Good Intentions, Offer Behavioral Alternatives

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By Genevieve Douglas  

June 23 -- Employers are advised to emphasize diversity and inclusion, but some also have to deal with employees who are actively disengaged, meaning they intend to spread their negativity to co-workers, Lenora Billings-Harris, founder and president of consulting firm Excel Development Systems Inc., said June 23 at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

Billings-Harris said HR professionals can take steps to address offensive workplace behaviors and resolve conflict in a way that benefits all parties involved.

The process to resolve conflicts among employees starts with an assumption of positive intent for the offender, according to Billings-Harris. “They probably really don't know the impact of their words,” she said of offending employees.

HR professionals should have the offended party state the specific behavior, not the attitude, of the offending employee, so that there is a tangible incident to discuss, Billings-Harris said. She emphasized that the offense should be observable and measurable, and it can be verbal or non-verbal, such as an eye-roll, sigh or shrug.

The offended party also needs to be able to tell the offending employee how he or she feels without placing blame, Billings-Harris said.

Most importantly, she said, HR should give the offending employee some options for improving his or her interactions with co-workers.

“Replace the unacceptable behavior with acceptable behavior and educate them on the importance of the change,” Billings-Harris recommended.

She added that it is also useful to give an offending employee a reason to curb unacceptable behavior. For example, she said, by modifying his or her behavior, the offending employee will be able to better interact with co-workers and therefore can increase his or her productivity.


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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at