We are a social species and in general most people find they can get along pretty well with most of the people they meet.  However, when a group of people are thrown together in the workplace sometimes there are one or two characters who don’t fit in as well as the others.  These people are often strong characters and their personal beliefs are more important to them than the quality of their relationships with others.

As an HR manager or a leader, even of just a small department in an organisation, it is your job to deal with these characters.  If you don’t, the whole team will suffer and lose energy while it focusses on the conflict rather than getting the job done.

So how do you deal with it?

Get both people in a room with you to talk through the issues.  Your initial priority is to set the ground rules that avoid it getting personal.  Use terms like “it seems that” or “this is the impression I am getting” to get the discussion going without either person feeling victimised.  

Intervene to stop the discussion if it gets heated and remind them of the ultimate goal.  Make sure both sides have their say fairly.  Stay in control of the discussion and demand mutual respect for everyone’s opinions.  Ask questions like “why” to bring out the thought processes behind each person’s behaviour.  Look for the shared goals and emphasise that you are all working towards them.

Watch out for different communication styles.  Some people naturally think visually (in pictures), others have an auditory style (they process best what they hear) and a few people are naturally kinaesthetic (they judge by their feelings).  Get two people in the room with very different learning styles and they can easily misunderstand each other.  Listen to their language for clues – if one person refers to “I see it this way” they may be very visual.  Another person may refer to “my gut feeling…” reflecting a kinaesthetic style.  Or “hear me out” may indicate they are naturally auditory.  If you notice these styles you may be able to help communication first by translating the words into a different style for the other person, and secondly by teaching both of them about the different styles which will help them to understand the issues they are having with communication.

Of course, ultimately, if one person is causing a lot of conflict you may have to take disciplinary action against them, but long before you get there it is worth remembering that a difficult character can have a unique view of the world and there may be great value in harnessing it.