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Managing Conflict in a Start-up

Workplace conflict is undesirable, but it is inevitable that sooner or later, there will be a disagreement about something. Employees argue with one another, an inexperienced manager proves ineffective, or you, the boss, struggle to maintain boundaries within your team.

The key to success is dealing with workplace conflict in an effective manner. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

What Causes Conflict?

Conflict can arise for any number of reasons. Sometimes, personalities clash. Other times, one person actively seeks to undermine another. If one person feels unfairly put upon because another is lazy, conflict will arise. Not providing feedback or expecting employees to work long hours for zero reward is another common cause of conflict.

Introducing Human Resources

Start-ups are often cash poor, so they run on a shoestring. This means everyone has to wear more than one hat, including you. Not surprisingly, when it comes to hiring team members, human resources professionals are way down the list. But this is a mistake.

Tech giant Google found that putting people first benefitted the company’s core operations. HR is now a strategic partner, which hires only the best human assets. Your start-up can benefit from prioritising human resource management too. If you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated HR professional, search a site like and take a human resource management training course. There are many certified courses available, which you can study on-site or in the workplace.

HR courses teach you the skills you need to manage risk and deal with workplace conflict, but don’t be afraid – conflict is not always a bad thing.

Conflict serves to highlight issues in the workplace. If two employees can’t get along, it is a sign that your team doesn’t gel in a productive way. Instead of ignoring the issue, set up a meeting where each individual can talk about the problem without feeling victimised. Offer to be the mediator or ask a manager to handle it.

Poor communication often leads to conflict in the workplace. Does your team have channels to report any issues they are facing? It’s all very well saying ‘your door is always open’, but if you are never there, problems will eventually come to the fore.

Be a good listener. Don’t be quick to judge when one person accuses another of some perceived slight or misdemeanour. Take some time to investigate. Talk to other team members and check facts before you bring the individuals together. Try and understand each person’s perspective. Ask questions, take notes or record the meeting.

Resolving Conflict in the Long-Term

Prevention is always better than the cure. Examine your hiring procedures to root out unsuitable people from the get-go. Always have a second person sitting in on interviews to minimise the risk of unconscious bias. You may be charmed by an attractive sociopath, but your colleague might see right through their shiny veneer.

Conduct regular evaluations and always give feedback so employees know they are appreciated.

Don’t ignore conflict in the workplace. It will come back and bite you if you do.

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