Managing conflict – what lessons can HR learn from Neymar and Cavani?

With footballers Neymar and Cavani getting into a public feud over penalty responsibilities, we take a look at how you can avoid conflict at work.

Conflict is an inevitable part of working relationships. When people with different perspectives spend any amount of time together working towards a similar goal there are always going to be disagreements. Whether two people are vying for the same promotion or just don’t get along, it’s how you manage the clashes that is important. Whenever it spills over into the public domain then reputation is at risk.

Paris Saint-Germain footballers Neymar and Edinson Cavani had a very public spat over who would take a penalty kick during a recent match against Lyon. They had also argued earlier in the game over who was to take a free kick. It’s since been reported that the PSG president had tried to diffuse the situation by offering Cavani, last season’s top scorer and designated penalty taker, €1 million to give that responsibility to Neymar. Some reports say that Cavani has rejected the offer and is being backed by his team mates while others say the club has denied having made any such offer.

According to reports in the Daily Mirror, Cavani feels that as he has spent the last four years at PSG, he is the deserving choice to take the club’s penalties and has no interest in giving up that responsibility.

Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. He says, ‘We find that one of the most effective ways to get the most out of all your employees is to ensure that there is good morale and an amicable working environment. This can sometimes be difficult to achieve, particularly if new staff come in and affect the balance. In order to maintain efficiency and morale, it is always a good idea to try and integrate new staff into a team as quickly and painlessly as possible. There are numerous ways to do this, but the main one is to ensure that everyone has clearly defined roles and tasks, and that there is a clear and agreed hierarchy. One of the easiest ways for rifts to form is when employees keep stepping on each other’s toes. When they know what they should be doing, this is less likely to happen.

‘While tension between big personalities is to be expected, particularly in a competitive environment such as football, when it moves beyond simply a disagreement into a bigger issue with the potential to affect the morale and performance of the entire team then it’s time for management to step in. The first step is to hold a meeting with both members of staff together. Explore where there is middle ground between the two that could lead to an amicable outcome. An easy suggestion for the PSG case would be to say that the players take it in turns to take penalties. Allow the players to discuss the concerns directly with each other, with the support and guidance of a manager. More often than not, enough common ground can be reached in this type of meeting to allow a solid professional relationship to continue.

‘By identifying an issue early and acting appropriately it’s possible to prevent it from escalating into a resignation and/or possible constructive dismissal case. As a manager, your first port of call should be to provide an environment where the employees involved can come together and talk. Secondly, make sure you listen to the staff members involved. By hearing their frustrations and issues you are showing them that you care about your employees and value their perspective.

‘It’s important at this stage to remain impartial and non-judgemental. Each employee should have equal chance to speak and you should ensure that they are all able to get their side of the disagreement across. Allow the employees to vent and voice their anger or frustration – by getting everything out and on the table in a managed environment you can ensure that the issue will not drag on or escalate. When employees feel that they are not being heard, or one party is being favoured over the other then resentment and anger will arise. If this is left to bubble under the surface it can worsen over time and end up in resignation or termination. While it’s important that employees are able to speak freely, this is where mediation comes in – you should ensure that conversations remain productive and no party feels under attack when emotions run high.

‘The final step is to try and help the employees to reach their own resolutions. Solutions can usually be found naturally to pretty much any disagreement as long as each party knows that you, the employer, are listening to their concerns.

‘Of course not all conflicts can be solved this way. If the problems persist to the point that they are disruptive to others, it may be time to consider more formal disciplinary action for both parties. If it is a case that egos are getting in the way, taking both employees through a formal process and giving them a formal warning should be enough to take them down a peg.

‘Neymar and Cavani are certainly not the first teammates to dislike each other or disagree on decisions but in order for PSG to thrive as a team, they will need to find a way to work together. It’s vital for any business to have strong leadership; by setting clear expectations and responsibilities for employees and making clear the consequences for not sticking to them it should be easy to manage conflict between employees….no matter what the size of their pay packet.’

Further reading on conflict

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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