How to Mediate a Conflict Between Team Members

Jan. 11, 2024
When personalities clash, how should shop owners handle it?

Navigating conflict in a shop is challenging. Handling it properly is important because how a leader helps to resolve conflicts reverberates through the entire shop. This means fostering communication and addressing conflicts constructively. Doing so can lead to better relationships, enhanced collaboration, and an adaptable team.

Ratchet+Wrench talked with Chris Cloutier, owner of Golden Rule Auto Care in Dallas, Texas, and Shari Pheasant with Horse Power Strategies, about how to best handle workplace conflict. 


Be Prepared, It Will Happen

Before a conflict happens, a shop should have established guidelines on how problems are resolved. Employees should know, upon hire, how the company handles conflict situations.

“Conflict will always exist until machines take over,” says Cloutier. He’s owned his shop for 12 years and also has a software company. He employs about 70 people between his two businesses.

According to Pheasant, a leader should first understand that there is no rule on how someone should feel when involved in a conflict. 

"A leader must recognize that different people react differently when embroiled in a conflict. Some get defensive while others become angry and upset,” she says.


Don’t Ignore, Chose to Resolve

By ignoring conflict, a leader may think they are promoting harmony. However, ignoring often makes it worse. “As the leader goes so does the company,” says Pheasant. Leaders end up regretting this approach because by avoiding the tension, conflict grows as people take sides over who’s to blame. Not handling the conflict promptly can cause long-term company disruption.

“As a leader, you have to handle the situation properly under pressure. The problem will work itself out faster if handled with proper timing. But it needs to be resolved because resentment will build and that leads to passive-aggressive behavior,” Cloutier says.

Determine if the dispute needs disciplinary action and if harassment is a factor. Before stepping in to resolve it, first understand the dispute is coming from several perspectives. Both parties, and if possible, an outside party, need to be given time to describe their versions of what is happening. As a mediator, your goal is to help both parties understand each other’s perspective. This needs to happen before the resolution, advises Pheasant.

"Letting go of ego in this part of the process is important. It isn't about right or wrong, it is about what is equitable," she adds.


Have a Safe Place to Talk

Do not resolve the conflict in front of customers or team members not involved in the situation. Cloutier gives his team members a choice on how to peacefully discuss the conflict. 

“I ask them if they want me to mediate or they can have the conversation themselves. Many times, after talking, they say the conversation went well and not what they expected,” he says.

If a team member does not want to participate, it could be because they are uncomfortable. Find out what makes them uneasy. According to Pheasant, this could involve having a conversation with that team member to fully understand their concerns and address issues that might be affecting their willingness to participate. Determine who holds what responsibility in the future to prevent future problems.

Then again, sometimes a situation needs to be handled away from the shop. 

“Ask them to go for a walk. It’s hard stuff, but it’s good to pay attention to the human side,” she says.


Get Both Sides of the Story

Conflict in a shop can be due to miscommunication between team members. When the job is making sure customers have reliable transportation, communication between the service advisor and technician is key.

A customer complaint can cause tension, especially when the leader is on the receiving end. Do not approach the situation with anger. Listen to both sides calmly. It’s important to realize customers will complain much more than they will compliment, Cloutier says.

“Like with a youth soccer referee, if parents have a problem about a call the ref made or didn’t make, they will complain. But no one tells the referee he did a good job,” he said.


Find Out the Root Cause 

Pheasant recommends asking a lot of questions to understand the situation.

“If the service (advisor) didn’t properly write up the ticket or the technician didn’t do the complete job, ask if this person is doing too much. Does the service (advisor) have other responsibilities such as posting business news on social media? Is the (technician) being pressured to get the job done quickly?” Pheasant says.

Recognize that external factors beyond the workplace may influence team members' behavior. For instance, a team member might be dealing with personal stressors like financial difficulties, family issues, or health concerns. This could affect their overall well-being and performance at work. It’s important to understand those issues without asking the team member to divulge more than they are comfortable discussing. Being empathetic to such problems creates an understanding workplace, she adds.


Do Preventative Maintenance

Pheasant recommends not blaming the entire team for one or two team members’ mistakes. 

“Making a blanket statement about a problem that is not caused by the entire team may have people wondering if they are part of the problem and many times they know who it is, but don’t like getting blamed,” she says.

Cloutier tries to prevent conflict with a “no water cooler talk rule.” His experience has been when a person complains to another co-worker about a fellow team member, it spreads resentment.

“If Jeff complains to Mark that Luke is not cleaning the coffee pot, but if no one talks to Luke about it, resentment builds,” Cloutier says.

Cloutier makes a point of praising team members for a job well done. Harvard Business School research shows that leaders who actively engage in coaching and give positive reinforcements to team members find themselves dealing with much less conflict. Coaching and positive reinforcement can foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration. When team members feel connected and supported, they are more likely to work together harmoniously.

“People respond better to criticism if they are giving praise often,” Cloutier adds.


Understanding the Changing Workplace

The workplace is more diverse than ever. Be mindful of how you are leading in a diverse workplace and keep an open-door policy.

“As a leader, getting rid of the one-size-fits-all approach allows you to see your workforce differently and in a manner that identifies their unique value on the team. Your conversations change, your actions change. As a leader, when you can uncover each person's scientific self and accurately identify who they are from the inside out you can lead with specific purpose easily and yet authentically for every person on your team, no matter their style,” Pheasant says.

She adds that hard topics, such as race, religion, nationality, and gender identity are hard personal topics. As professionals, we need to be mindful that these factors can influence behavioral styles. This effort underscores that a true team is a diverse one. By incorporating and supporting diversity by embracing different personalities the team can become cohesive.


See an Opportunity

When dealing with conflict resolution through a lens of opportunity, it can be healthy for business growth as well as team members’ professional growth. It can catalyze innovation, growth, and improved team dynamics. The procedure established could be nimbler and more productive. 

“By having conversations based around conflicts in the shop and listening to different perspectives in order to determine the solution brings innovation and best practices into play more often for a shop. Building trust through a better, clearer understanding of each other allows vulnerability and transparency to become a part of your culture and your team's ability to thrive together,” concludes Pheasant.





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