Sometimes conflict cannot be avoided and that is not a bad thing. When you and your team or you and a colleague resolve a conflict together, you build a better working relationship. When I say to you, ‘Don’t give in without a fight’; I don’t mean go have an ugly nasty altercation. I mean don’t give in because it feels easier or you think it is the peaceful thing to do.
Recently we have discussed steps to take to when you decide to step in and step up to conflict resolution. In ‘You Decide to Resolve a Conflict’ Part I and Part II one of the underlying assumptions was that you had time to plan your actions and the steps you would take to resolve the conflict.
All of that is really great when you can plan to face a conflict in advance. But some of you might be saying to me, “But conflict can’t be scheduled.” Yes, it’s true. Not all conflicts can be scheduled. Some situations happen right in front of you and you’re involved and you see that you need to stay involved. What do you do?
Do you say, “Okay, everybody, stop, we need to have a meeting about this later.” That isn’t always going to work. Let’s look at some techniques that will work.
1) If the conflict is unhealthy, you need to cool everyone down and bring discussion back to a level that is healthy. It’s like when you separate two children who are getting ready to punch each other, (I sincerely hope that your conflict is not about two people who are about to have a physical fight) you send them to their corners to calm down.
2) Remind everyone that we’re here to work on a business issue and EVERYONE needs to act like a professional.
3) Encourage them to state where they’re having conflict or what their issue is in a calm, professional manner; without blame and without calling name calling. Let each person have a turn to state what they believe to be the issue. Remind others to remain quiet and listen while others are speaking.
4) Many issues stem from misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities. Listen to people discuss the conflict, is there a basic issue about who should be doing what and when? If so, facilitate a conversation about roles and responsibilities.
5) Consider whether or not you are the right person to help resolve the conflict. You are already involved, you want to see it resolved and you’re trying; but perhaps your efforts are not working OR one of the parties isn’t receptive to you. You might be perceived as having too much bias. (Is one of the parties your best friend, then of course you have bias.)
6) If you are not the right person get a mediator. Bring in someone else who can resolve the conflict. It’s not about you personally resolving the conflict. It’s about the conflict being resolved in a healthy, productive manner.
7) What if you are one of the parties in the conflict? What responsibility do you have? Your responsibility is to behave like an adult professional, to let go of hard feelings, to really work on a solution that is best for the project or the customer or the company and not to insist on your way because it is your way. And you have a responsibility to do everything within your power to stop this from escalating into an unhealthy conflict. Even if the other person is calling you names and trying to make something more of it, you have a responsibility to be the stronger professional. Do not say or something that you’re going to be sorry about later.
Now what? Now you are ready to dig deep and work together towards the best resolution. The approach you take is very much like the approach we discussed In ‘You Decide to Resolve a Conflict’ Part I and Part II; you are just selecting the steps that fit the situation and using them right away.
In You Decide to Resolve a Conflict, Now What? we discussed some steps to take when you decide to step in and help resolve a conflict. These steps were designed to help you when you know in advance that you will be facilitating resolution. Today we are going to build on those steps by looking at how to lead the team through a productive conflict resolution session.
Let’s assume that you have the group together and you have discussed roles and responsibilities, ground rules for your time together, agreed on your common goal and you have allowed participants to express their thoughts and expectations about the outcome of this session. Now you are ready to:
1) Allow each party to share their perspective. The purpose of this sharing is to gain insight into where people are coming from; it is not to allow people to verbally abuse others, to complain or to place blame. Reminder: Make active listening part of your ground rules. During this time we should be truly listening to our associates, not preparing our rebuttals to their statements.
2) Start brainstorming! Encourage everyone to provide ideas on how to resolve the issue or conflict. No idea is too crazy; you never know where an alleged crazy idea will lead. Try to get people to come up with at least three ideas per person. You don’t want anyone to stay stuck on just one approach – not yet!
3) Separate the ideal proposal from the idea selection. After the brainstorming try to have a cooling off period. The purpose for this cooling off period is so that people let go of any attachment they have to their ideas. In fact when you record ideas from the brainstorming, do not list whose idea it was. (Sure some people will remember, but the point is to stay away from sides and politics etc.)
4) What you can do before selecting an approach is define the requirements for the resolution. What does the right approach do, what does it not do? You don’t do this before your brainstorming because it will constrain the creative process.
5) Now you are ready to select a course of action. Tell the group how the decision will be made. If it will be by consensus, fine. If you make the decision, great. But if you do not explain the decision making process to the group, you will find yourself right back in the middle of a new conflict.
6) Once a decision has been made, create an action plan and carry it out. You have resolved the conflict and selected a way to move forward. Now it is time to assign clear and specific tasks to specific individuals. If you do not it is as-if the conflict was never resolved.