Dealing with unresolved conflict in the workplace

“I can’t believe this issue continues to take up time and energy at our staff meetings,” said Joelle, a supervisor in a government department.  “I thought we resolved this issue two years ago, this is the third time it has been addressed since then.”

Joelle is not alone. Many leaders have found themselves in a similar situation – revisiting old issues time and time again.  In fact, Phil, an HR team lead says he’s faced “same conflict, different people.”  One of the challenges with the resolution of workplace conflicts is that to ensure the agreements and resolution stick, it requires attitude and behavior changes from those involved in the resolution conversations.  Often people are just so relieved to have the conflict and its associated stress addressed they do not discuss HOW to make the agreement work and WHAT they will do if things fall off the tracks.

Often when an issue is resolved, there is a critical piece missing – follow up.  Follow up to ensure people involved understand what the outcome/agreement is, what is required to make this work, how involved parties will contribute to making the agreement work, and, to check in a few weeks afterwards to assess how the agreement/outcome is working.   This will alert you to issues that may be surfacing.

  • Use a decision tracker. Track all decisions in staff meeting minutes, and, a Decision Tracker.  A Decision Tracker is a chart that simply outlines the date, the decision that was made (clearly spelled out), the rationale for the decision, messaging to the organization, and how it will be monitored.  This is a quick and easy reference tool for leaders.
  • Address issues quickly. Don’t let them fester and build in intensity. Addressing issues quickly will help minimize rumours, gossip and inaccurate information.
  • Ask questions. If old issues continue to surface query WHY the issue is on the table again.
  • Address 1 on 1. If it is one particular staff that has a pattern of raising old issues or not letting go when issues are resolved, this is a great opportunity for feedback, coaching and resetting expectations.

*Originally published on