updated 8/17/2011 9:19:29 PM ET 2011-08-18T01:19:29

A long-time customer is offended by something a new employee said. Another employee is furious about having been passed over for a promotion in favor of a co-worker and is trying to discredit her. These are just a couple of examples of workplace conflicts that threaten to take up the valuable time of business owners. The trick to moving past these conflicts and on to increased productivity for everyone at your business is knowing how to broach the topics in a way that leads to improved working relationships.

The Exchange can help you do that. It is a four-stage, structured conflict-resolution model used successfully by mediators at the National Conflict Resolution Center for more than 25 years. It includes constructive techniques to use in face-to-face meetings with disputing or disruptive employees.

The following tips — based on The Exchange — will teach you how to turn your next meeting with conflicting employees into a productive conversation.

1. Start with an icebreaker. An ideal icebreaker asks for a person’s take on something that’s both work-related and positive.

Businessweek: The high cost of compromise 

2. Listen. Being an active listener sends the message that you are genuinely concerned about both parties in the dispute. Showing each that you are willing to see both sides of the story will help you set the foundation for working toward a solution.

3. Use and encourage positive language. Always think before you speak. When you keep things positive, you can work toward great solutions efficiently and effectively.

4. Work toward sustainable solutions. They should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed.

Disputes cause headaches in the workplace. The good news is that when you’re armed with the tools you need to work toward productive resolutions, you and your employees can use them to strengthen your organization, rather than harm it.

Dinkin is the president of the National Conflict Resolution Center based in San Diego, Calif.

Businessweek: Turning conflict into cooperation
Businessweek: Ten management practices to axe

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