I’ve mediated a lot of conflicts where two or more employees have different perceptions of events. For the most part, I’ve come to believe that most people are telling “their” truth. We see things through different lenses based on our experiences, and what we expect can sometimes overshadow what may be truly happening.
So, when you have employees coming to you with an issue and divergent opinions as to what happened, what do you do? What is “right”? Most of us have seen optical illusions, where a picture can appear as one thing and then when introduced to an alternative, we can see something else. The same can be true for events.
First, it’s important to actively listen to what you’re being told. Try to step back from your own expectations and experiences so you can truly hear what they’re saying. Repeat what you’re told to get acknowledgement that you heard correctly. Consider the setting of the events—was it a chaotic scene? Stressful? Are there other pressures coming into play (i.e., disciplinary issues or personal events that may skew a viewpoint)?
If you can determine factors that affect the situation, point those out where you can. For example, if one employee knew about a new process while the other was not aware, but neither discussed the change, that could have led to misunderstanding. Often there is a simple explanation that may have started the ball rolling.
Usually, after hearing all the “facts” in play, it can be relatively easy to determine the cause or source of the issue. Many times, just being heard can help calm down a situation as employees want to feel supported. If the situation arises from personal issues, remind the employees to focus on the job at hand and return to accountability related to the work. While we encourage employees to get along and enjoy positive relationships, they have been hired to do specific work and need to make sure that’s the emphasis and motivation during working hours.
Helping employees work through disagreements can lead to better collaboration and teamwork, creating an atmosphere for successful work, and that is the right thing to do.