Conflict resolution is a daily occurrence at work that can either propel or disrupt the momentum for a leader, a team or the entire organization. Here’s the thing – leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. Don’t fear conflict; embrace it, it’s your job. While you can try and avoid conflict, you cannot escape conflict. The fact of the matter is conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. Conflict happens. It is inevitable. It is going to happen whenever you have people with different expectations. You can’t win a conflict at work. Winning a conflict means getting the outcome ‘you’ want regardless of what the ‘other’ person wants. Here are the essential tips for avoiding and resolve conflicts at workplace.
- 5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict
- 13 Tools for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace, with Customers and in Life
- 1. Stay Calm.
- 2. Listen to Understand.
- 3. Accentuate the Positive.
- 4. State Your Case Tactfully.
- 5. Attack the Problem, Not the Person.
- 6. Avoid the Blame Game.
- 7. Focus on the Future, Not the Past.
- 8. Ask the Right Kind of Questions.
- 9. Pick Your Battles.
- 11. Be Creative.
- 12. Be Confident.
- 13. Celebrate Agreement!
- How to Resolve a Conflict at Work
- Realize that some conflicts are inevitable at work.
- Handle conflicts sooner rather than later.
- Ask nicely.
- Invite the other person to talk about the situation.
- Observe. Identify what you see in neutral, objective terms.
- Identify the consequences.
- Define an objective.
- Get mediation.
- Consult a lawyer.
- 5 essential steps to resolve a conflict at work
- 4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Employee Conflict
5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict
Here’s the thing – leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. From my perspective, the issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up by adhering to the following ethos; ”Don’t fear conflict; embrace it, it’s your job.” While you can try and avoid conflict, it is bad idea, you cannot escape conflict. The fact of the matter is conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.
How many times over the years have you witnessed otherwise savvy professionals self-destruct because they wouldn’t engage out of a fear of conflict? Putting one’s head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself, in fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It is not at all uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem if not resolved early on.
One of my favorite examples of what I described in the paragraph above is the weak leader who cannot deal with subordinates who use emotional deceit as a weapon of destruction. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover-up for their lack of substance. These are the drama queens/kings that when confronted about wrongdoing and/or lack of performance are quick to point the finger in another direction. They are adept at using emotional tirades which often include crocodile tears, blameshifting, little lies, half truths and other trite manipulations to get away with total lack of substance. The only thing worse than what I’ve just described is leadership that doesn’t recognize it and/or does nothing about it. Real leaders don’t play favorites, don’t get involved in drama, and they certainly don’t tolerate manipulative, self-serving behavior.
Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity, and the creation of barriers to cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps most importantly for leaders, good conflict resolution ability equals good employee retention. Leaders who don’t deal with conflict will eventually watch their good talent walk out the door in search of a healthier and safer work environment.
While conflict is a normal part of any social and organizational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it. Concealed, avoided or otherwise ignored, conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment, create withdrawal or cause factional infighting within an organization.
So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc. While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. Let’s examine these 2 major causes of conflict:
Communication: If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation. Let’s assume for a moment that you were lucky enough to have received good information, but didn’t know what to do with it…That is still a communication problem, which in turn can lead to conflict. Clear, concise, accurate, and timely communication of information will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts.
Emotions: Another common mistake made in workplace communications which leads to conflict is letting emotions drive decisions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Case in point – have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and draw the regrettable line in the sand in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future.
The very bane of human existence, which is in fact human nature itself, will always create gaps in thinking & philosophy, and no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t so…it is. So the question then becomes how to effectively deal with conflict when it arises. It is essential for organizational health and performance that conflict be accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. While having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilization of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependant upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution, and perhaps more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter. The following tips will help to more effective handle conflicts in the workplace:
1. Define Acceptable Behavior:
You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts. Clearly and publicly make it known what will and won’t be tolerated.
2. Hit Conflict Head-on:
While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.
3. Understanding the WIIFM Factor:
Understanding the other professionals WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
4. The Importance Factor:
Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional and/or philosophical gaps.
5. View Conflict as Opportunity:
Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds can’t even imagine. Smart leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions.
Bottom line…I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. However, when all else fails and positional gaps cannot be closed, resolve the issue not by playing favorites, but by doing the right thing.
13 Tools for Resolving Conflict in the Workplace, with Customers and in Life
Conflict happens. It is inevitable. It is going to happen whenever you have people with different expectations. This makes conflict management critical, whether avoiding arguments, disputes, lasting conflict or ultimately, litigation. Conflict can be avoided if steps are taken early in a discussion to diffuse anger and facilitate communication, and it can be resolved by applying a series of thoughtfully applied steps. As a full-time mediator and trainer in the fields of negotiation and conflict resolution, I see conflict in its final stages – full blown litigation or on the verge of it in pre-litigation mode. What I have learned in seeing these disputes for 10 years is that most of them could have been resolved in the earliest stages if the people involved applied some of the skills that mediators use to resolve conflict. And wouldn’t it be great if companies could resolve these disputes before each side spent hundreds of thousands in litigation costs, before the employee was terminated or before the customer or working relationship was gone forever? Here are some tools for avoiding and resolving disputes in the early stages, before they become full-blown conflicts:
1. Stay Calm.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” The thing that leads to conflict is escalation. What starts people escalating is their anger. Most of us stop listening to understand as we get angry. Instead, we start listening in order to argue back. Remaining calm is essential for performing these tools. To remain calm, it helps to look at the big picture. If you think about it, most every dispute gets resolved eventually. So when conflict inevitably happens, it is helpful to stop and think that, chances are, it is going to be resolved eventually. As such, why not begin problem solving now? Finally, it is a fact that in our busy lives with rush hour traffic, cell phones, PDAs, overfilled e-mail boxes, too many clients and not enough support, that we are all a little more stressed than we would like to be. When a conflict arises, one of the most beneficial things you can do is to ask yourself, “What might I be bringing to the dispute?” We can usually look at another person and figure that maybe he/she had a conflict at home or that he/she has been under tremendous pressure. However, we are not usually self-aware enough to ask ourselves what we might have going on. It is important in avoiding later embarrassment by checking in with our own personal boiling point before responding.
2. Listen to Understand.
Now, picture a dispute in which you were recently involved. Maybe it was this morning leaving the house, with a co-worker or client or even with a family member. As you replay that experience, ask yourself how much listening was going on. My bet is that any listening was only being done to formulate an argument back to prove your point. When most of us get into a dispute, the first thing we do is stop listening. The only way to settle a dispute or solve any kind of a problem is to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Perhaps they will surprise you with reason, or their point is actually true. In the mediations that I do, I often learn what people’s underlying interests are by letting them go on and on telling their perspective of an issue until they give me the one thing that is standing in the way of them resolving it. They may start out by degrading the product and personalizing it by saying those of us who delivered it are all incompetent, but I find that this is little more than their anger speaking. What they really want is their product fixed, not to insult us personally.
Psychologists tell us that anger is a secondary emotion and that it is usually triggered as a defense mechanism to cover up hurt or fear. When someone is angry, there is usually some hurt or fear that he/she is embarrassed about, or perhaps even unaware of because the anger is so all consuming. In order to diffuse people’s anger, you must listen to them. Hear them out. Let them go until they have run out of gas. Let them vent as long as they can until they begin to calm down. You then will see a person start to slow down some, and begin to feel safe enough to finally tell you that what frustrated him or her so much was that the salesperson never returned any phone calls, and/or the customer service person kept trying to place blame elsewhere, rather than taking responsibility and apologizing for the product being unacceptable.
The best thing you can do to get people to the point where they are willing to show some vulnerability and trust you with some of the real reasons why they are upset is to engage in “Active Listening.” Active listening means giving them active physical and verbal signs that you are with them and understand what they are saying. Simple things like nodding and saying, “Uh huh” or “OK, go on” can make the speaker feel as if his/her story is welcomed by you and that you want to continue. On the phone, people hear dead silence and cannot read your reaction to their complaints and thoughts. Given that we all sometimes fear the worst, people tend to shut down and stop feeling it is safe to continue telling their story.
My friend and colleague Jim Melamed, a divorce mediator and trainer based in Eugene, Ore., said: “You cannot effectively move toward conflict resolution until each participant experiences him/herself to be fully heard with regard to their perspective – what they want and why.” That means, if someone says that the product he/she bought from you is unacceptable, and they are interrupted and asked what would be acceptable before they have finished telling all about the problem, that person gets the message that all you want to do is fix the problem. The impression is that you do not care about them or the problem you had with your product, and that can feel a little like being swept under the carpet. A good customer service person in a situation like this would let the client finish before asking if there were any other problems. This may seem counter-intuitive because it might bring on even more of the same, but this is what you want. People build trust as they are listened to. If they had another problem with the delivery timing or any other facet of the transaction, this is when you need to hear it – at the outset, not later once you feel as if you have met all of their original concerns. The only way to solve a problem is to get all of the broken pieces on the table at once before you begin trying to “glue it back together.”
The most useful phrases in this part of the process (what mediators call the “Opening Statement”) are questions such as, “Can I ask you – what about that bothered you so much?” or “What about that was so important to you?” These invite people to go deeper into the problem and tell you what the “real” problem is. Usually, this is where you hear that their boss is upset and they are afraid for their job or some underlying concern. This is a problem that might be handled with something as simple as a letter of apology, from you, the salesman or the president of your company, addressed to them with a copy to their boss, taking full responsibility and apologizing for the problem. Then, you will have a customer you might be able to keep.
3. Accentuate the Positive.
It is important to find some commonalities, or create them, between you and the person on the other end. It is helpful and empathetic to say, “Oh boy, I know what you are going through. I’ve had a similar situation just recently. Let me see what I can do about this.” This serves to normalize the situation. It tells someone that he/she is not the only one who has gone through this and that his or her reaction to it is normal. That calms people right away.
4. State Your Case Tactfully.
The key here is to help people understand your perspective on things without making them defensive. To the extent you can disarm them, they will be more able to hear what you are really saying. A couple of tips are to own what is yours – apologize for what you or your team did wrong and do it first. This enables them to hear what you have to say next. Also, try not to state issues of difference as fact. Leave a little benefit of the doubt. Rather than insisting something arrived on schedule, it is better to acknowledge any room for doubt by acknowledging, “My information shows them arriving on schedule. I’ll have to take a closer look into this.” While you may still be right, clearly you have to gather more information to convince them of that, and if you are not right, then you do not have to apologize for misstating things. It also is helpful to state your position along with your interests. What that means is that instead of maintaining that there is nothing wrong with your product, which is purely argumentative and does not offer any support for your position, it is better to offer something helpful, such as providing another perspective by sending someone over to inspect the product in person. That way, the customer can show and describe exactly why the product is not working as necessary. Your position is the bottom line of what you are willing to do. Your interests are the reasons behind that decision. For example, it might be your position that you cannot take any product back or rescind the contract. However, your reason for that – your interest – may be that your bonus is tied directly to your returns, and that you have every incentive in the world to solve this problem another way. You may also offer what some of those things are, so that you are not just taking away something from them or denying their request, but offering positive alternatives in its place.
One way to do this is to use “I Messages.” An “I” message sounds like, “When you didn’t come home last night, your father and I got really worried. What we would like you to do next time is call if you’re going to be late, so that we know you’re OK because we love you and care about you.” That is how most of our parents were when we were teenagers, right? Seriously, can you imagine how we would have reacted if they had put it this way instead of the scenario we remember of being grounded for life while stomping off to bed? “I” messages are important because they describe the experience through the speaker’s eyes, rather than simply the position (in this case the punishment). That disarms the person you are speaking to, and it takes the fight out of their next statement back to you.
5. Attack the Problem, Not the Person.
Your points will be heard more clearly if you can depersonalize your comments and point only at the issue. Rather than accusing people of “always messing things up,” it is better to say, “We’ll have to take a closer look at why this keeps happening.” In most statements that we make in a dispute, we are fighting with our own anger and are tempted to put a zinger into the point we are trying to get across. You will be heard better and improve your chances of resolving the issue the way you want if you can catch yourself and take the zinger out. Obviously, this is easier with e-mail and requires great concentration when in a face-to-face disagreement.
6. Avoid the Blame Game.
Assigning blame is only helpful in one instance in problem solving – if you assign it to yourself. Generally speaking, figuring out whose fault something is does not do any good if the goal is to fix a problem. It is a diversion and sometimes a costly one because if a person feels blamed, he/she often checks out of a conversation. The trick to resolving clashes is to focus on problem solving, rather than pointing fingers. Focus on what you and the others can do to solve a problem and make it better, and it will be behind you before you know it.
7. Focus on the Future, Not the Past.
In the past tense, we have the purchase order, the contract, the agreement and the deal as it was understood by all involved. The present and future tenses are where the solution ends. Rather than focusing on what went wrong or who should have done what, the secret to dispute resolution is to treat it like problem solving and focus on what can be done to resolve the problem. Once that is done, companies can look to the past tense to analyze what went wrong and how to improve quality control and efficiency. However, when there is a problem that has an angry customer or a disgruntled employee, the solution is all that anyone is interested in.
8. Ask the Right Kind of Questions.
Questions such as “Why is that?” or “What did you think it would be?” make a person who you are talking to defensive. They inherently question the person’s judgment or opinion, as well as coming off as curt. More often that not, people ask these short, direct questions, the type that can sound like a police officer’s interrogation or a lawyer’s cross-examination. These questions are designed to get just what you want from someone, rather than to permit them to tell you what they want you to know about something.If you want someone to answer you with real information, rather than just arguing back, it is best to give them a little information first. For example, “Since I don’t have a copy of the P.O. in front of me, it would help me to investigate this if you could tell me more about how the colors on your order are described.” Telling them why you are asking, puts your intent first, so they don’t have to guess it. This questioning style tells a person that you are trying to do your job and to figure out some facts to get to reach a solution. By delivering your request in a poised and attentive tone, , it makes the person you are asking less defensive and gets you more of what you want. The other type of question that is especially helpful when you are trying to gather information is an open-ended question. These are the opposite of directive questions, and they invite the other person to tell you what he or she thinks is important about the situation. “Can you tell me what happened from the beginning?” or “Sounds as if this was really frustrating for you” can give you information that you might later use to problem solve.
9. Pick Your Battles.
It is also important when asking questions to remember to Pick Your Battles. Human nature makes us want to be right, even to the point of being defensive or arguing points that do not matter in the big picture. It is even fair game to ask the other person, “On a scale of one-to-10, how important is this issue to you?” If an issue is a five to you and a nine to the person you are talking to, it is best to give that point up and use the same scale when an item is really important to you. After all, business relations are, like my brother’s future father-in-law once told him about marriage, a “60-60 proposition.” Most people think it is supposed to be 50-50, but the truth is, when adjusted for each person’s perspective on how much they givevs. how much they receive, it really is a 60-60 proposition. Another marital proposition is also helpful here, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
10. Link Offers.
Car salesmen do this all the time. They ask you what you want your monthly payment to be and then set the price of the car and the interest rate on the loan or lease so that they can match your monthly payment. Essentially, it’s a way of saying, “I can either do this or that, which would be better for you?” It really is just sales skills – giving people the choice between two positives, so that they feel as if you are trying to help.
11. Be Creative.
Brainstorm. Remember that everything is negotiable. Feel free to think outside of the box in order to expand the pie. Make it so that no idea is too far fetched. Being creative with resolutions takes longer, but can yield a true win-win solution. The best solution to a dispute is to get more business out of it. As such, one common problem-solving technique is to propose that instead of a cash refund, giving clients a deep discount on future orders in order to show what a good job you are capable of doing for them. Many of the lawsuits I settle come away with win-win solutions, where instead of just compromising, we actually collaborate to reach a solution that benefits everyone. This requires listening when asking the open-ended questions and gathering morsels of good information that you will later use to formulate proposals that meet their interests. For example, you might learn about particulars that affected an order. From here, you can propose creative solutions that replace things such as broken items, or instead of using the money to re-do the entire order, you can use less money to ship a few dozen shirts with their logo on them so that your counterpart can look like a hero in front of the boss. These kinds of fixes make clients look good and keep them loyal to you, even after an initial dispute.
12. Be Confident.
You can do this! Many people are afraid of confrontation and shy away from it. I have taught everyone, from housewives and high school grads to named senior partners in law firms and CEOs, how to do these simple steps. The process works. All you have to do is follow the steps.
Furthermore, you must do this. Now that you have these tools, it is imperative that you do something about it. You owe it to your customers and your co-workers.
13. Celebrate Agreement!
This kind of negotiation is a hard process. It requires two people to remain in an uncomfortable, potentially confrontational position for a long time to rebuild trust and be creative while trying to figure out the best, rather than the fastest, solution. Once it is accomplished, both you and the person you are talking to deserve a good pat on the back. There is nothing wrong with going to lunch or dinner to celebrate the resolution of a dispute that could have been destructive, but that ended with a win-win solution where everyone was satisfied. This is an important process for avoiding more serious disputes such as lawsuits and losing hard-earned customers. Congratulate yourself and your partner in this solution. After all, nothing is more important than your company and its survival. Nothing is better for your company’s survival than learning to make peace and resolve the inevitable disputes that will arise. Learn to cultivate peace with customers, suppliers, employees, labor and management.
Utilizing these tools takes patience and generally requires changing old behaviors. However, if people on the front lines, in human resources, customer service and client relations, use simple tools such as these, they would resolve most disputes at that level, keeping them out of the legal department and out of the mediator’s office.
How to Resolve a Conflict at Work
You can’t win a conflict at work. Winning a conflict means getting the outcome ‘you’ want regardless of what the ‘other’ person wants. Since the underlying issue has not been solved, it will simply reappear later. Much better than winning a conflict at work is resolving it. Unresolved conflicts make people unhappy at work and can result in antagonism, break-down in communications, inefficient teams, stress and low productivity. Here are the essential steps to constructively resolve conflicts at work.
Realize that some conflicts are inevitable at work.
Whenever people are committed and fired up, or change and new ideas are emerging, conflict and disagreement are bound to happen. This does not mean you have to revel in conflict or create trouble just for the heck of it, but it does mean that when conflict happens, it’s not the end of the world. It can be the beginning of an interesting learning process. Conflicts mean that people care enough to disagree strongly. The trick is not to allow the conflict to go on forever.
Handle conflicts sooner rather than later.
Resolve a conflict when it starts, as it only gets worse with time. Conflicts at work arise not from something that was said, but from something that wasn’t said! Everyone’s waiting for the other to admit he’s wrong and gets more unpleasant after the conflict has stewed for a while. It’s essential to interrupt the “waiting game” before it gets to that point.
If somebody has done something that made you angry, or if you don’t understand their viewpoint or actions, simply asking about it can make a world of difference. Never assume that people do what they do to annoy you. Sometimes there’s good reason why that person does what he or she does (even the things that really get on your nerves), and a potential conflict evaporates right there. Make your inquiry just that–an inquiry, not an accusation of any sort: “Say, I was wondering why you did ‘X’ yesterday” or “I’ve noticed that you often do ‘Y’. Why is that?” are good examples. “Why the hell do you always have to ‘Z’!” is less constructive.
Invite the other person to talk about the situation.
A hurried conversation at your desk between emails and phone calls won’t solve anything. You need an undisturbed location and time to address the issue.
Observe. Identify what you see in neutral, objective terms.
This is where you describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. What is actually happening? When and how is it happening? What is the other person doing and, not least, what are you doing? You’re only allowed to cite observable facts and not allowed to assume or guess at what the other person is thinking or doing. You can say, “I’ve noticed that you’re always criticizing me at our meetings” because that’s a verifiable fact. You can’t say “I’ve noticed that you’ve stopped respecting my ideas” because that assumes something about the other person.
Apologize for your part in the conflict. Usually everyone involved has done something to create and sustain the conflict. Remember: You’re not accepting the entire blame, you’re taking responsibility for your contribution to the situation.
Praise the other part in the conflict. Tell them why it’s worth it to you to solve the conflict. This can be difficult as few people find it easy to praise and appreciate a person they disagree strongly with, but it’s a great way to move forward.
Identify the consequences.
What has the conflict led to for you and for the company? Why is it a problem? Outlining the consequences of the conflict shows why it’s necessary to resolve it. It also helps participants to look beyond themselves and see the conflict “from the outside.”
Define an objective.
What would be a good outcome? It’s essential to set a goal so both parties know the outcome they’re aiming for. That makes reaching the outcome a lot more likely.
Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away. For example: “I suggest that we introduce a new rule: At meetings when one of us suggest something and the other person disagrees, we start by saying what’s good about the idea and then say how it could be better. Also, if we start to attack each other as we have before, I suggest we both excuse ourselves from the meeting and talk about it in private instead of in front of the entire team. And, what do you say we have a short talk after our next project meeting to evaluate how it went? How does that sound?”
Some conflicts cannot be solved by the participants alone, and mediators can help. Mediation involves a neutral third party who has been trained in mediation principles, who is experienced in mediation, and who is trusted by the people involved in the conflict. A good mediator will help the disputants find their own solution, not provide advice or push them toward any particular solution.
Take care when selecting a mediator. The mediator (or mediators) should only be someone who has undergone formal mediation training, has extensive mediation experience, and has mediated under supervision. Otherwise, he or she may do more harm than good.
Consult a lawyer.
Some conflicts involve disagreement about what is legal, or whether to follow the law. Whistle-blowers who report violations may have legal protections, and may consider raising their concerns outside the normal chain of command. If the conflict arises from a fraud to obtain money from the government, whistle-blowers may need to follow special procedures to protect their rights. The False Claims Act requires that whistle-blowers with original knowledge of such fraud be the first to file their claim, and refrain from public disclosure of certain information about their claim.
5 essential steps to resolve a conflict at work
Though Jane enjoyed working as the sales manager of Wilbey & Sons, working with Scott, the financial manager, was a constant struggle for her. At every meeting, Scott would take great care to explain why all her ideas were unworkable. Also, Scott was constantly asking for sales projections and financial data from her and always wanted it in excruciating detail. Supplying these figures was taking up a large amount of her department’s already packed schedule. Frankly she thought, he was nothing but a dry, negative perfectionist.
Scott, on the other hand, thought that Jane was a maverick. She always had to interrup meetings with her harebrained schemes and whenever he asked her for the data he needed to keep the company finances in order, she would always stall and make him have to ask her again several times. Jane, he felt, was nothing but a happy-go-lucky, unrealistic show-off.
It got to the point where neither of them could stand to be in the same room together. The company clearly suffered under this conflict between two of its key employees and something clearly needed to be done. Fortunately the CEO had a simple but surprising solution.
I don’t know about you, but I hate conflicts at work. Spending my work days mad at a co-worker, trying to avoid that person and subconsciously finding fault with everything they say or do is not exactly my idea of a good time.
I used to be an expert at dodging conflicts on the job and I’m here to tell you that it just doesn’t work! What does work is biting the bullet and doing something about it here and now. I have seen what looked like huge, insurmountable, serious conflicts go “poof” and disappear into dust when handled constructively. I have also seen an itty-bitty molehill of a problem grow into a mountain that threatened to topple an entire company.
You can’t win a conflict at work. Winning a conflict ie. getting the outcome you want regardless of what the other person wants can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that the underlying issue has not been solved. It will simply reappear later over some other topic. Much better than winning a conflict at work is resolving it.
And the price of inaction is high, because unresolved, long-running conflicts result in antagonism, break-down in communications, inefficient teams, stress and low productivity. In short, unresolved conflicts make people terribly unhappy at work.
With all of this in mind, here are five essential steps to constructively resolve conflicts at work. The steps can be applied to any kind of conflict between co-workers with maybe one exception – read more at the end of the post.
1: Realize that conflicts are inevitable at work
Show me a workplace without conflict and I’ll show you a workplace where no one gives a damn. Whenever people are engaged, committed and fired up, conflict and disagreement is bound to happen. This doesn’t mean you have to revel in conflict or create trouble just for the hell of it, but it does mean that when conflict happens it’s not the end of the world. Quite the contrary, it can even be the beginning of an interesting learning process. The very best and most efficient workplaces are not the ones without conflicts but those who handle conflicts constructively.
Particularly when a workplace is changing and new ideas are being dreamt up and implemented, conflict is inevitable. There can be no business change without conflict. The trick is to make sure that you also have no conflict without change, because that is the truly dangerous thing: Conflicts that go on for years with all parties refusing to budge.
The fact that you have a conflict at work does not reflect badly on you – it mostly means that you care enough to disagree strongly. That’s a good thing provided that you do something about the conflict instead of just letting it go on forever.
2: Handle conflict sooner rather than later
SmokingThis is the single most important tip to successfully resolve conflicts: Do it now! It’s very tempting to wait for a conflict to blow over by itself, but it rarely does – in most cases it only gets worse with time. I refer you to this delightful cartoon by Claire Bretecher for an example.
90% of conflicts at work do not come from something that was said, but from something that wasn’t said! It’s tempting to try and smooth things over and pretend everything is normal. Don’t. That’s the most common reason why conflicts at work escalate: Nobody does anything. Everyone’s waiting for the other guy to pull himself together and “just admit he’s wrong, dammit”. It may be unpleasant to tackle the issue here and now but believe me, it gets even more unpleasant after the conflict has stewed for a good long while.
In the early stages of a conflict the most powerful tool to resolve it is simple: Ask! If somebody has done something that made you angry, if you don’t understand somebody’s viewpoint, if you don’t understand their actions – ask!
Do it nicely. “Say, I was wondering why you did ‘X’ yesterday” or “I’ve noticed that you often do ‘Y’. Why is that?” are good examples. “Why the hell do you always have to ‘Z’!” is less constructive :o)
Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason why that person does what he does, and a potential conflict evaporates right there. Also: Never assume that people do what they do to annoy you or spite you. People typically have a good reason to do the things they do, even the things that really get on your nerves. Never assume bad faith on anyone else’s part. Instead: Ask!
4: Giraffe language
For more entrenched conflicts that have been going on for a while, use giraffe language. It’s the best tool around for constructively conveying criticism and solving conflict.
An example: You and a co-worker often clash at meetings. It’s gotten to the point where each of you are just itching to pounce on the slightest mistake the other person makes. You can barely stand the sight of each other and have begun to avoid each other as much as you can. This has been going on for a while now.
Here’s how you can use giraffe language to adress the conflict. There’s an invitation and six steps to it:
Invite the other person to talk about the situation. An example:
“Say John, I’d really like to talk to you. Do you have half an hour some time today? We could meet in meeting room B”.
A hurried conversation at your desk between emails and phone calls won’t solve anything. You need an undisturbed location and time to adress the issue. And make no mistake: Giving this invitation may be the hardest part of the whole process. It can be remarkably hard to take that first step. Do it anyway!
At the meeting itself, you need a way to structure the conversation constructively. Otherwise it could easily go like this:
The good thing about giraffe language is that the conversation doesn’t degenerate into mutual accusations. Without a proper structure the meeting could also go like this:
“John, why are you always attacking me at meetings?”
“What are you talking about – I don’t do that!”
“You do. Yesterday you jumped on me for suggesting that we add en extra programmer to the team.”
“We’ve talked about that a thousand times, we don’t have the budget for more people.”
“That was no reason to stomp me and the idea at the meeting.”
“Well that’s what you did to me when I suggested that we review the project model.”
Ever had one of those discussions at work? Not much fun and not very productive either! Giraffe language keeps accusations, assumptions and mutual attacks out of the conversation and makes it much more likely to reach a solution.
Here’s how it goes. It’s important that you prepare the meeting thoroughly and write down notes to each step so you know what you’re going to say. After each of the steps (except ii and iii) ask the other person if he agrees with your thinking and if he’d like to add anything.
i) Observation. Identify what you see in neutral, objective terms.
“John, I’ve noticed that in our project meetings, we get very critical of each others ideas. For instance, the other day you suggested reviewing our project model and I jumped on you for suggesting it, though it’s actually a necessary step. I have noticed that we’ve ended up doing something like this in almost every meeting in the last few months. It also seems to be getting worse. Would you agree with this description of the situation?”
This is where you describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. What is actually happening? When and how is it happening? What is the other person doing and, not least, what are you doing? You’re only allowed to cite observable facts and not allowed to assume or guess at what the other person is thinking or doing. You can say “I’ve noticed that you’re always criticizing me at our meetings” because that’s a verifiable fact. You can’t say “I’ve noticed that you’ve stopped respecting my ideas” because that assumes something about the other person.
ii) Apologize. Apologize for your part in the conflict.
“John, I want to apologize for attacking you at the meetings. It has a bad effect on the mood of our meetings and I can see that it makes you angry. I apologize.”
If you’re 100%, totally and utterly without fault in the conflict you may skip this step. That doesn’t happen too often, let me tell you, usually everyone involved has done something to create and sustain the conflict. Remember: You’re not accepting the entire blame, you’re taking responsibility for your contribution to the situation.
iii) Appreciate. Praise the other part in the conflict. Tell them why it’s worth it to you to solve the conflict.
“I know we don’t always see eye to eye and that we have very different personalities but I want you to know that I really appreciate your contribution to the project. Without you we would never have gotten this far in the same time. Also the way you communicate with our clients and your ability to find out what they really want are second to none and a boost to the project.”
This can be difficult, few people find it easy to praise and appreciate a person they disagree strongly with, but it’s a great way to move forward. It also serves as a lithmus test: If you can’t think of a single positive thing to say about the other person, you may not be ready to resolve the conflict yourself. In this case see tip 5 (mediation) below.
iv) Consequences. What has the conflict led to for you and for the company? Why is it a problem?
“I don’t like this situation we have now. It’s making me anxious before meetings and it’s making the meetings less productive. I also think some of the other project members are starting to wonder what it’s all about. Jane asked me the other day why the two of us can never agree on anything. I think this is actually harming the project. Would you agree?”
Outlining the consequences of the conflict shows why it’s necessary to resolve the conflict. It also helps participants to look beyond themselves and see the conflict “from the outside”.
v) Objective. What would be a good outcome.
“I would like for us to listen more an appreciate each others ideas more. You have some great ideas and even if I don’t agree with an idea, I can still listen and make constructive suggestions. Does that sound like a good goal?”
It’s essential to set a goal so both parties know the outcome they’re aiming for. That makes reaching the outcome a lot more likely :o)
vi) Request. Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away.
“I suggest that we introduce a new rule: At meetings when one of us suggest something and the other person disagrees, we start by saying what’s good about the idea and then say how it could be better. Also if we start to attack each other as we have before, I suggest we both excuse ourselves from the meeting and talk about it in private instead of in front of the entire team. Also, what do you say we have a short talk after our next project meeting to evaluate how it went. How does that sound?”
The standard version of giraffe language has four steps and is formulated slightly differently. What you see here is an adaptation of traditional giraffe language to the business world that is more suited to conflicts at work.
Why is it called giraffe language? Because the giraffe has the biggest heart of any animal on dry land (it needs to, to pump blood all the way up to its brain). The great thing about giraffe language is that:
It gives structure to a difficult conversation
It minimizes assumptions and accusations
It focuses on the real problems not just the symptoms
It results in a plan of action – not just vague assuarances to do better
5: Get mediation
George, the CEO of Wilbey & Sons, wanted Jane and Scott, his sales and financial managers, to work well together, but he also knew that something new was need to break the ice between them. He invited them to a meeting in his office and as they sat there, next to each other across his desk, the resentment between them was apparent – you could sense how they were each ready to spring into action and defend themselves.
His opening took them both by surprise, though. “Jane, would you please tell me what you admire about Scott.” This was not what they had expected, and Jane needed a moment to get her mind around that particular question.
“Well… he… it’s… I have to say that his reports are always excellent and that his department runs like clockwork. Also he handled that situation with the bank last month quickly and without a hitch”.
The CEO’s next question was “And Scott, what do you appreciate about Jane?” Having heard the first question, Scott was caught less by surprise and smoothly replied “Sales are up 17% this quarter because of her last campaign and it looks like the trend will continue.And I must say that the customers I talk to all like the new pricing structure she introduced.”
From that moment on the mood in the room had shifted, and the three of them could have a real conversation about Scott and Jane’s differences and how to resolve them. Though they never became friends, they were able to work effectively together and appreciate each other’s strengths.
Some conflicts are so entrenched that they can not be solved by the participants alone; outside help is needed in the form of conflict mediation. Mediation involves finding a third party trusted by the people involved in the conflict, and then trusting that person to help find a solution. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, a business coach, a co-worker, etc. You can still speed up the mediation process by preparing for it by using the giraffe language steps above.
What if all of this doesn’t work?
There is no guarantee that the method described here will resolve your conflict at work. It may or it may not. But even if it doesn’t work you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve tried. You have risen above the conflict for a while and tried to address it positively and constructively. No one can ask more of you.
One kind of conflict at work is particularly tricky, namely a conflict with your manager. With a good manager who responds constructively to criticism, this is rarely a problem, but a conflict with a bad or insecure manager can seriously impact your working situation and needs special handling. There’s a post coming next week about working with bad managers.
4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Employee Conflict
Conflict resolution is a daily occurrence at work that can either propel or disrupt the momentum for a leader, a team or the entire organization. The workplace can become a toxic environment when leaders allow conflict to fester rather than confront it head-on. Managing conflict can be a tricky thing – especially when you are not familiar with the larger ecosystem in which the particular individual or department creating the conflict operates, and how efforts to resolve conflict will reverberate throughout that ecosystem. The workplace is fueled with so many concurrent agendas that you never know which ones may be affected when you resolve conflict solely to benefit and advance your own.
Leaders must act responsibly to be respected. Leadership is not a popularity contest; it is a serious responsibility that primarily involves developing and guiding the full potential in people, teams and the organization at-large. An important part in the process of developing potential is knowing how to see conflict and when to seize the opportunity within the conflict before healthy tension turns into overly disruptive chaos.
Many leaders would rather avoid tension to create the appearance of harmony. What they don’t realize is that by avoiding tension all together they are unknowingly creating silos and internal disruption amongst employees. A leader must be expected to neutralize or minimize conflict, not allow it to grow and run rampant.
Unfortunately, in their attempts to keep the peace at work, leaders often create artificial, untrustworthy environments. This is what happens when you are more concerned about being well-liked, avoiding a negative reputation, or being put into a situation that might reveal your leadership vulnerabilities.
As I learned, there are some people you can work through conflict with and others that are too proud, too afraid to be vulnerable, or just too overwhelmed by their own insecurities to acknowledge the tension – let alone work through it. To help you create and sustain workplace momentum, employee engagement, and healthy outcomes, here are four ways to deal with conflict resolution at work.
1. Right Timing
People often create unnecessary conflict. Leaders who avoid conflict at all cost will find themselves regretting it later. Timing is everything when it comes to managing conflict, and the best time to take action is when there is hard evidence/proof that an employee has a track record of wrongdoing that is negatively impacting the performance of others.
If everyone around you knows it must be dealt with and you are still waiting to act, you are losing the respect of your peers and those you lead. Leadership is about taking action and confronting the issues before it’s too late. If you wait too long during times of adversity, those around you will begin to make the decisions that you were hesitant to make – and you lose momentum as a leader. When others see that you are not mature enough as a leader to act, this puts your leadership reputation at risk.
How you deal with adversity may make or break you, but more than anything it will ultimately reveal you. Take the Workplace Serendipity Quiz to identify your ability to see potential conflict and identify the opportunity within it.
2. Know Your Boundaries
Conflict can become something much more complicated and unmanageable if you don’t know the limitations and boundaries of your employees. Everyone deals with conflict differently, so you must know the risks and rewards of conflict resolution within the boundaries of each of your employees.
Help others know when they tend to cross the line through careful observation; identify behavioral tendencies that seem to trigger certain attitudes, provoke mindset shifts, or demonstrate a lack of self-awareness. This can be accomplished with consistent coaching sessions where you can begin to set precedence and reinforce performance expectations for each of your employees. This not only allows you to identity their conflict boundaries but more importantly to establish standards that will help prevent conflict from arising.
Leaders who actively engage in coaching and learning about those on his/her team will find themselves dealing with much less conflict. The new workplace represents a growing diversity in the types of people that we lead; you must get to know who they are if you want to understand how they will influence the ecosystem you are trying to create.
3. Respect Differences
Rather than impose your influence, hierarchy or rank – respect the unique differences in people and learn to see things from differing points of view so you can better understand how to avoid conflict in the future. Conflict resolution is rarely black and white. In fact, there are more and more grey areas these days as the workplace becomes more generationally and culturally diverse than ever before.
Beyond the understanding of how conflict could have been avoided, respecting differences in people can help you better understand how to manage conflict with people in general (and their boundaries as noted in point two).
Common sense tells us that we are most comfortable dealing with those we trust and naturally gravitate towards. As leaders, we must see that each employee represents a unique opportunity for professional growth and development. Let’s face it, business is all about people intelligence, and until we accept this fact, we will continue to unknowingly create tension with those employees we are not comfortable with – and undervalue their contributions in the process.
4. Confront the Tension
Leadership is often about doing the things that most other people don’t like doing. Conflict resolution is one of those things – but as leaders we must confront the tension head-on. Don’t wait, but rather activate your leadership to address the conflict before circumstances force your hand.
Conflict can yield an emotional state of mind that makes it more difficult to manage it. As such, we must confront rather than allow it to fester because we failed to address the adversity when it first became apparent. Adversity is very big when it is all you can see. But it is very small when in the presence of all else that surrounds you.
Perception is not always reality and oftentimes we don’t confront the most obvious situation before us because we let other points of view distort what we believe to be true. The most effective leaders have the self-awareness and wisdom to confront and diffuse the tension. Conflict resolution is much like any other form of adversity. You either act or you don’t. How many times has your gut told you to take action when dealt with adversity, but instead you waited until those around you took the calculated risks that you were hesitant to take yourself?
Leadership is about anticipating the unexpected. Don’t complicate matters. Trust yourself enough to take action.
Conflict resolution is about seeing opportunities that others don’t see.When dealing with conflict resolution through a lens of opportunity, conflict can be a healthy enabler of growth for your business –and professional growth for all of the people involved. Effective leaders know that the most authentic relationships with their employees, clients and external partners don’t truly begin until they experience some form of tension with them.
Why? How do you really get to know someone (let alone yourself) until you experience a little tension with them? As a result, conflict should be embraced and dealt with – not just to resolve a possible problem or to detect an opportunity – but as a moment to learn about your own leadership maturity as you lead others through adverse circumstances.
(Aggregate from Internet)