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Crisis Communication and Mediating Employee Disputes: When Employees Refuse to Get Along

Updated: May 27

My newest book, "Leading Through Crisis," was released under the prestigious “First-Time Manager” series by HarperCollins Leadership on September 5th, 2023. I’ve been given permission to release snippets of sample chapters to my Blog and social media audiences.

While these aren’t the full chapters, they should help provide insights into your “Leadership Through Disruption and Crisis” career strategies. I hope you enjoy the read and can develop action plans for your office or shop floor in terms of demonstrating outstanding leadership communication, agility, and teamwork, no matter what gets thrown your way in today’s crazy world. Yes, we’re building the plane while flying it, but we’re in this together!

Please feel free to share your insights here on the Blog or in an Amazon book review. Thanks for reading and hope you get a lot out of this! --

Paul Falcone

Adapted from The First-Time Manager: Leading Through Crisis, which you can find here:

First-Time Manager: Leading Through Crisis by Paul Falcone HR

Crisis Communication and Mediating Employee Disputes: When Employees Refuse to Get Along

Adapted from The First-Time Manager: Leading Through Crisis

It’s said that there are two kinds of employees who quit: those who quit and leave and those who quit and stay. It’s also said that the difference between an active job seeker and a passive job seeker is one bad day in the office. While you may get along great with your subordinates, sometimes they just can’t seem to get along with one another. Broken trust among staff members, like old wounds, can run deep. That's where crisis communication comes into play.

The reality is that your staff members will almost always take the path of least resistance with one another—avoidance—rather than address problem issues head on. You, as manager, have to then intervene in a mediating role to ensure that a lack of communication doesn’t lead to performance problems, poor cross team communication, or turnover.


Two warring parties can easily throw the balance of the entire team off and perpetuate drama and angst for everyone. Remember that your job is not to motivate your staff. You’re charged with the responsibility of creating a work environment in which people can motivate themselves. That kind of work environment exists when people feel like you, as their manager, have their back and can do their best work every day with peace of mind. And while they may get that great feeling from you, it may get trounced by that uncomfortable feeling they get from their coworker day in and day out.

When two of your staff members are “at war,” let both know that you want to meet with them together. First, however, they need to know that you’re listening to them individually, so they feel heard and understood. (They also therefore feel like you’re on their side, which you are.) Second, they need to know that you will share their feedback with the other person in advance of the group meeting so that both sides can think about the other person’s side of the story. Nothing helps more than getting each to walk a mile in the other’s moccasins, so to speak, because this raises awareness and empathy on both sides before the group meeting.


During the group meeting, you’ll notice typically that each employee will first address his or her concerns directly to you— the mediator. It will be as if the other person weren’t even there in the room. Third person “he­she” discussions need to be changed into first-person “­you” dialogue. To accomplish this shift, simply stop the conversation as soon as one of the participants begins speaking about the other in the third person. Ask the individual to speak directly to the other person as if you weren’t there.


You’ll know the battle is won when both parties are talking to each other, agreeing that they’ve got a problem on their hands, and demonstrating a willingness to fix it. You’ll end the meeting on a constructive note where both agree to change their behavior. Congratulations, you’ve treated your warring parties as adults and held them accountable for fixing the PR or perception problem on their hands.

Remember that a key rule of workplace due process is that you must allow adults to hash out their differences in a controlled, safe environment. No matter how much you care, you can’t manage their differences. Only they can do that. Still, you can provide a mechanism for solving employee disputes that brings out the best in people. Establishing a culture of openness means confronting “people problems” in an environment that maintains the individual’s dignity. It enhances your position as a leader and establishes your reputation as a fair arbiter of disagreements— truly a management trait that’s hard to find at other companies where the “grass may be greener.” There’s no better formula for employee retention than treating people with respect, dignity, and a caring ear.

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