Workplace Conflict – The Five W’s for Intervention (Ezine Article)

By Gayle Oudeh | Co-Author: Nabil Oudeh | Submitted On June 06, 2007

“I deal with problems all the time. That’s my job. But this one is messy. I don’t know how to handle it and if we don’t do something quick it’s going to get ugly!”

Jocelyn (not her real name), VP of Human Resources in a mid-size manufacturing company, was worried about a situation in one of their plants. It wasn’t the first time. She had been called into the plant several times over the past year. But this was bigger.

One of the managers was in the process of removing two employees from their positions. Jocelyn had been working with the manager to make sure he followed proper procedure and had documentation to back up his claims. Then yesterday she received notice from a lawyer representing the two employees, making claims of verbal and physical abuse from that same manager. Today she’d received several unsolicited emails from other employees at the plant supporting those claims of abuse. A couple of the other plant managers had phoned her, letting her know there were problems brewing. And now the CEO had got wind of the “rumblings” and was demanding that Jocelyn make the problems “go away.”

Tempers were flaring, the situation was escalating, more individuals were getting involved, and the potential for a full-out crisis was imminent. But Jocelyn wasn’t sure what to do to calm things down and not add fuel to the fire.

Unfortunately, Jocelyn’s indecision cost the company, in a number of ways. Tensions at the plant continued to intensify, leading to shouting matches and even some physical confrontations. Everyone started taking sides. Employees talked about their lack of trust in management. Managers were busy assigning blame and denying involvement. The work environment was negative, accusatory, and secretive. Productivity took a serious downturn.

The ability to take quick, clear, decisive action in critical situations is a vital skill for anyone in the company who, like Jocelyn, is responsible for dealing with issues and crises. Companies need to have a plan or framework for analyzing these situations and intervening in an effective and efficient way. Knowing how to manage crisis is one of the most essential skills in the workplace today.

Is there a situation in your workplace that requires an intervention? Don’t know where or how to start? Consider these five questions:

Why? Issues arise all the time. They’ll resolve themselves, won’t they? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In fact, left unresolved, issues and conflicts seem to multiply. And, when conflicts appear, they take an enormous amount of employees’ time and attention. Sometimes it’s not the original issue itself, but the ripple effects that are so debilitating. When a problem arises that is affecting people’s ability to focus on their work, you’ve got to intervene.

When? Timing can be critical in an intervention. Hesitating can be seen as covering up, lack of leadership, even manipulation. If you don’t want things to escalate further, the time to intervene is always now.

Where? As conflicts escalate, side issues can seem to spin out of control. But an intervention must get to the root cause of the situation and not just those side issues. For example, if an employee has been accused of offensive behavior, that individual must be dealt with specifically and immediately. Instituting a company-wide training program on respectful workplaces won’t resolve the situation.

What? Interventions can take on many different forms and interveners may use different names for the work they do. Whether it’s called mediation, facilitation, dialogue, problem solving, or team building, make sure that the intervention directly relates to the root cause(s) of the problem, that it addresses all involved stakeholders, and that it results in workable long-term solutions.

Who? Interventions are most successful when they are led by a neutral third-party who has no vested interest in the outcome. And it is important that the intervener is seen as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and can develop a positive rapport with all parties.

Is there conflict in your workplace that is about to explode? Consider the five W’s and intervene.

Article Information

Gayle Oudeh and Nabil Oudeh are the principals of the Centre for Conflict Resolution International, a consulting firm that works with organizations of all shapes and sizes to resolve, manage, and prevent workplace conflict. In addition to their combined experience of over 30 years in the conflict resolution field, Gayle and Nabil credit their 18-year marriage for enhancing their understanding of conflict management theory and practice! Their entertaining and positive approach to the subject of conflict has made them sought-after facilitators and speakers. They are the co-authors of the recently published book, Conflict is for the Birds! Understanding Your Conflict Management Style.

For ongoing information, tips and advice about dealing with conflict at work, check out Gayle and Nabil’s free newsletter at

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