Conflict Resolution Best Practices to Keep Your Lab Running Smoothly

Conflict resolution probably ranks close to the bottom of the list of a water lab manager's preferred responsibilities. After all, your staff is a group of well-educated, highly trained specialists, so they should be able to work out differences of opinion relatively calmly and quickly, right? Not necessarily.

Inevitably, tensions will arise between your employees on occasion. Adopting some conflict resolution best practices can help you diffuse any clashes quickly and effectively.

Conflict Is Inevitable — and It's OK

In any task or process, employees are going to bring to bear specific elements of their training, goals, or otherwise unique perspectives. And with these differences comes the opportunity for conflict to arise.

On top of that, water testing involves meticulous, multistep processes, so even the best-planned systems leave plenty of opportunities for disagreements to surface regarding if, when, or how certain steps were completed. Perhaps a routine sanitation task was overlooked, or a sample was stored questionably. There will also be simple personality clashes that bubble to the surface.

The bottom line is that if you hire team members thoughtfully, you'll have a staff of unique individuals who will occasionally see things differently — sometimes even vigorously so. Conflicts that arise from these situations are reflective of your diverse staff, which isn't a bad thing. Plus, conflict can be an indication that your employees are serious about their work and dedicated to your lab's success.

Steps to Effective Conflict Resolution

Just as there are numerous potential causes of employee conflicts in your lab, there are many approaches you can take to resolve them. That said, there are several overarching principles and tactics that you can use to take a systematic approach to conflict resolution.

Don't Wait to Address the Problem

This can be harder than it sounds. Sometimes disagreements can flare up but then be readily resolved by the employees involved, in which case your involvement may seem heavy-handed. On the other hand, should a conflict be allowed to fester, it may lead to a bigger problem like stunted productivity or your staff questioning your capacity to manage tense situations.

Forbes recommends handling conflicts as soon as you have evidence of wrongdoing that's negatively impacting your staff's performance. After all, a core component of leadership is the ability to step up and take action. Waiting to address the situation can work against you, potentially causing your employees to lose faith in you as a leader.

Listen Earnestly

A sincere, in-depth conversation between multiple parties is likely to be the primary vehicle toward resolving a conflict. It's important that you set the tone for these talks, remembering that effective communication requires patient, active listening.

That means both listening to each employee's perspective and helping clarify the issue at hand for all involved. Ask open-ended questions that allow everyone a chance to speak their mind. Come to these conversations without bias, judgment, or assumption.

Emphasize the Importance of Teamwork

While the range of personalities and perspectives may lie at the heart of these conflicts, you can help soften these differences by emphasizing that problems of this nature can most likely be resolved as a team. Remind everyone of your collective goals while reiterating that effective teamwork requires both individual initiative and a clear understanding of the team's shared needs.

Accept and Respect Differences

There's rarely a black-and-white answer for resolving an employee conflict. In many ways, it's really an exercise in determining how to avoid a similar conflict in the future.

With that in mind, there's little room for you to impose a solution, given your position. Rather, a big part of your mission is to help your employees come to understand their differences and manage — or even eliminate — their potential to become obstacles.

The Lab Manager's Responsibility in a Conflict

As the manager, you're ultimately responsible for ensuring your lab runs effectively and efficiently. But resolving a conflict is as much about being a mediator as it is being a boss. You'll certainly need to investigate the problem, but your ultimate success in conflict resolution will involve collaboratively finding solutions that work for all parties involved. Laying down the law, so to speak, is unlikely to provide a lasting solution during an employee conflict.

You have a critical role to play in resolving interpersonal issues. Embody and articulate both the organization's values and the qualities you expect in team members. Consistently modeling mutual respect, self-control, and an unwavering focus on your lab's larger mission and goals may be your most important responsibility in resolving an employee conflict.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.