It can be a manager’s nightmare: conflict between employees growing out of control. It gets even more difficult when you have a dining room full of guests waiting to be served with a smile. How your staff behaves when confrontation arises is only part of the picture, however. Restaurants perform better and — hopefully — diners enjoy their experience more when employees/servers can carry out employee conflict resolution productively and effectively.
With that in mind, we have seven key tips for managers looking to dive into employee conflict resolution with a clear head, open heart, and the best interests of both their staff and their business in mind.
1. Understand that conflict is not always bad.
It is a myth that all conflict is detrimental to the workplace. Restaurants, like any business, can capitalize on meaningful, constructive conflict in order to grow, improve, and thrive. Completely avoiding conflict in the workplace could leave the best ideas unsaid, especially if employees are afraid to speak up or discouraged from sharing ideas.
The key to meaningful conflict is to create an environment where employees (and managers) can respectfully disagree about things because they know everyone has the the business’ best interests at heart. Part of cultivating that team environment is making sure everyone on the team is informed about specific company goals and feels like they have a stake in the restaurant’s success.
2. Pick your battles carefully.
Know when to intervene and when to let employees work things out for themselves. Not every conflict requires escalation up to a manager to arbitrate. Sometimes, conflicts are small and blow over more quickly on their own than if they are enlarged artificially by the spotlight of an intervention.
That said, try also not to let conflicts between staff members boil out of control before intervening. The longer a disagreement festers between two employees, the more likely it is that emotions will start to run high, and that could result in uncontrollable outbursts — maybe even in front of your dining room guests.
3. Keep it out of the customer eye.
It’s a problem for conflicts in the workplace to consume your staff’s attention, but understand under no circumstances should they be allowed to consume your customers’ attention as well. Visible arguing, fighting, and even micro-aggressions between staff members should be nipped in the bud as soon as they are identified.
Your staff should be instructed as a matter of course to keep their disagreements away from the dining room. If employee conflicts start to interfere with customer service, managers really have no choice about whether to intervene or not. The conflict has already gone too far.
4. Treat each side equitably and fairly.
Every manager undoubtedly has favorites among their staff, but when it comes to employee conflict, you cannot be anything but objective. Every employee deserves the chance to be heard without pre-judgment and have equal time to present their side, either one at a time in the same space (without interruption) or one by one with the manager privately.
Most important of all as a manager arbitrating employee conflict resolution is not to rely on staff buzz or gossip when judging the situation. Instead, work on getting first person accounts of the problem at hand. Try to keep your attention (and your employees’ attention) focused on facts and actions, not emotions and assumptions. It will help clear the air faster.
5. Identify the source of the problem.
Often, conflict can develop in such a way as to mask the real issue at hand. Is the issue about work or is it personal? Is it even about the other person involved? Sometimes employees can bring their personal issues from home to work – it’s hard not to! Something troubling them elsewhere can result in shortness or aggression toward another person in the workplace.
But even when the problem is clearly about something happening in your restaurant, be savvy enough to look past the surface tension. If there’s an underlying cause to the tension, it may extend beyond two (or more) individuals and into your policies as well. Is your scheduling inequitable or causing tension between employees? Is work being distributed in a way that is perceived as fair? Are privileges being extended to everyone similarly?
Here are a few tips on how to communicate with employees under duress:
- “I don’t want you to think that I don’t value your efforts here; I do want to point out that you’ve been causing somewhat of a distraction between ___ and ___. I’d like your thoughts on how we can both ease the tension of the situation.”
- “I need to talk with you about ___. The perception from your peers is you’re ___.” (Focus on facts not feelings.)
6. Find a solution.
This is undoubtedly the hardest part of employee conflict resolution: finding a solution that everyone can be happy with, including you as a manager. That may not always be possible, but strive to land on a solution that incorporates fairness, addresses as many of the stated issues as possible, and has the potential to help avoid future personal conflict.
Once the employees agree on a solution, consider putting it in writing. That way, everyone involved has a touchstone to come back to if they feel the agreement is not being honored, or if they need to remember what they agreed to after the dust clears and tensions lessen. Be sure to communicate who owns the employee conflict resolution and what communication may be required. Remember sensitivity — employees who complain may not take kindly to the offender attempting to make amends.
7. Focus on (and follow up with) the team.
Ultimately, your restaurant staff is not simply a collection of individuals. They are a team, and they need to function like one for your business to run effectively and efficiently. Remind your staff often that they are their own best resource and that supporting each other — and treating each other with the same level of service and consideration they are expected to give guests — is a base expectation for your workplace.
Rewarding teamwork along with individual accomplishment is one way to encourage harmony and positive conflict while keeping negative conflict and disruption to a minimum. Give your staff every opportunity to be each other’s champions and you’ll likely have to intervene less as a manager with employee conflict resolution, and be able to spend more time building up your business profits and revenue over time.
Your staff composes your team and represents the whole company, so make sure you can closely work with them and get their issues resolved right away. Having teamwork in the workplace is essential in all organizations, it’s basically the core structure that everyone should focus on before you move forward and start working on your next goals.
Deliver feedback that adds value. For example, “I saw/heard this…” and “Next time, what else do you think you could try to improve the situation?”
Need a comprehensive guide to managing the lifecycle of your employees from hiring to disciplining? Download our free eBook on “Restaurant Management for Success” today!