Conflict is going to happen at work. It’s inevitable, even in those companies that are rated as the best places to work. When we are dealing with other human beings something at some time is going to trigger someone, and frustration will turn into conflict. It doesn’t matter whether the conflict exists between co-workers, colleagues, team members or entire teams with other teams or between supervisors and employees, you can’t ignore conflict…it doesn’t go away. And the good news is resolving conflict is possible.
1. Stay calm: Thomas Jefferson said “Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Nothing escalates a problem into conflict faster than high emotions.
2. Understand the source(s) of conflict before attempting a resolution. You cannot hope to alter the way conflicting parties interact without understanding the reasons behind the conflict. A resolution must address the sources of conflict rather than the surface issues that present themselves.
3. Do not sacrifice yourself for the sake of resolution. Appeasement does not resolve conflict. It only hides conflict until the underlying problem again rears its ugly head. Appeasement essentially equates to avoidance because one party simply gives in without being heard. Both parties must address the issue between them.
4. Do not turn conflict into a competition. Conflict resolution can easily turn into a battle of wills. Competition only serves to circumvent the underlying issues and exacerbate tension.
5. Listen to understand. Most of us stop listening when we get into a dispute or someone is yelling at us. The only way to resolve a problem is to listen to what the other person is saying, and even what they aren’t saying. But don’t just listen to respond, listen to truly understand their views.
6. Avoid the blame game. It’s so easy to fall into this trap, especially when you are getting yelled at or accused of something. It really doesn’t matter who is right, or wrong, if the goal is to fix the problem.
7. Attack the problem or situation, not the person. Focus on the problem at hand, not the person you are interfacing with. As soon as you go to comments like “what were you thinking” or “why did you…” you make people defensive and they shut down. Identify the problem and focus on that, not the person.
8. Negotiation is key. Conflict exists because people have differing beliefs, perceptions and understandings of any situation. Sometimes there is no clear solution or right way to address the situation. For people to move forward though each side must relinquish having it their way.
9. Handle in person or at least on the phone. Technology is wonderful and has a purpose, but not for resolving conflict. When there is a problem, nothing escalates the problem quicker than receiving a text or email about it and expecting the other person to understand the situation, your feelings about it and virtually eliminating them from being able to ask questions. If it’s serious enough to discuss talk to them in person or pick up the phone.
10. Work together to resolve conflict. Conflict resolution demands cooperation. Each party must commit to finding a resolution and agree to the work involved in solving the problem. Without commitment, and ongoing interactions that demonstrate both parties are continuing with the commitment it’s easy for everyone to throw in the towel.
11. Don’t take sides…period. If you are in leadership you cannot take sides, regardless of your own personal views. Your job is to mediate and offer guidance on how to help those around you resolve their problems.
12. Take a time out if things get out of hand. Sometimes emotions get too high and there is no way in that moment to resolve the situation. The best solution is to step away from the conflict, cool down and return when able to remain civilized.
13. Don’t determine the outcome you want. So often we decide the outcome we want and work backwards from that position. The result is we miss key points the other party is sharing that may influence our thinking. There is not only one right outcome.
14. Rinse and repeat. Conflict resolution is a process. The above listed steps are all part of the process. The old adage of ‘if at first, you don’t succeed try, try again” applies to conflict resolution. Each situation is different and requires you to try a new or different approach.
Even the most even-keeled person can become agitated and explosive given the right set of circumstances. And there are so many factors that impact us on any given day and our ability to manage conflict effectively. Workplace conflict is going to happen, there is no getting around that. Take the time to learn the techniques to resolve conflict when it occurs so it’s just smoke instead of fire, which is a lot easier to quelch.