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5 strategies to diffuse tension in the car dealership

With a high degree of intensity and competition, it’s no surprise that management in every department will encounter tension.

Dealerships tend to be staffed by highly competitive individuals, and many of the positions have pay structures based on productivity. With a high degree of intensity and competition, it’s no surprise that management in every department will encounter tension.

Unfortunately, workplace tension is seldom a quick conflict that gets resolved. It tends to fester and spread through gossip, developing a rift between staff – or even whole departments – that takes away from productivity. The focus on the customer experience is not prioritized, and the problem snowballs. 

A leading cause of workplace tension is inauthentic leadership, where staff doesn’t see their leaders acting in the way they expect their employees to, fostering mistrust. Diffusing tension starts with management displaying integrity, making the following strategies effective at resolving toxic issues.

1. Be consistent on discrimination and harassment

Certain behaviors must be handled swiftly and harshly, and always wholly by the book. If there are verifiable instances of discrimination or harassment in the workplace and you have a zero-tolerance HR policy, dismissal should be the recourse. Swift action against discrimination will demonstrate to your staff that respect must be given to everyone at all times. 

It should go without saying that management must abide by the same policies against harassment and discrimination. Any examples your staff see of such actions will entirely discredit your authority.


2. Encourage one-on-one interaction

Most workplace tension is a result of poor communication or an inability to handle conflict well. When two employees have an unresolved issue that is starting to spill over with heated or open arguments or by starting gossip, it’s often because one or both people don’t know how to get past it. Open dialog is the solution to most workplace tension, especially in a competitive industry like automotive retail with so many ‘Type A’ personalities.

Get the two parties together in the same room to speak face-to-face. Mediate the conversation or have someone from HR involved to do so, encouraging the use of facts rather than hyperbole or rumor. Determine the resolution each person wants, and work toward realistic goals. 

3. Present the impact in the workplace

The average employee loses 2.5 hours or productivity on workplace gossip per day. Not only is there an emotional impact on everyone involved, but the financial impact on the dealership is significant. By pointing out that an issue costs those involved 150 minutes that could be spent earning, it can begin to show the impact. Expand it to the others that inevitably get pulled in, and there could be multiple days of productivity lost. Re-centering the focus on selling cars, serving customers, or getting vehicles serviced can pull people out of a funk.

Related: How to get better at spotting and addressing employee burnout at work

4. Stay neutral

As a manager, it would be naïve to think you don’t have staff you favor or trust more than others. However, that can’t factor in when dealing with conflict in the workplace as it could blind you to what’s really happening. Stay neutral in the tension, giving each side the benefit of the doubt. If you’re having trouble staying neutral or the optics aren’t great in the situation, remove yourself and have someone else help mediate.

5. Reward model behavior

Tension sometimes follows specific individuals from job to job, but so does good behavior. When you have someone that acts as a role model, make sure they know it’s appreciated. The reward could be financial or a moment to publicly recognize their behavior, or sometimes it’s enough to give a word of appreciation in private. By rewarding positive behavior, it shows to others what they should be doing also. 

The auto dealership life has enough challenges already. Diffuse workplace tension as quickly and positively as you can to keep your team healthy and productive.

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Jason Unrau
Jason Unrau
Jason Unrau is an automotive specialist with more than 15 years of experience at the dealership level. Focusing mainly on fixed operations and the service industry, Jason’s expertise is in enhancing the customer experience and promoting a healthy, profitable service department.

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