10 Tips For Managing Conflict
This article outlines the steps to managing conflict which, if followed, will dramatically increase the likelihood of facilitating a resolution.
- Pick your timing
They say there is a time and a place for everything. Conflict is no exception. While a moment of rage may make you feel like hijacking the team meeting and telling Bob what you really think of him, the "shoot first ask questions later" approach doesn't get results. If you need to tackle a situation, it's normally best to make a separate time to address the conflict issue specifically.
- Pick your forum
So you've made a time to speak with Bob about his bullying tactics and derogatory tone, not to mention the sarcastic nickname he openly uses in reference to you. Now in making a time to speak with Bob have you thought about the forum? Should you meet at work? Should someone else attend? Would it be best to meet off-site on neutral territory? What is the agenda you have in mind and what if things turn ugly? These are just some of the things to consider in creating the right forum for discussion.
- Establish the facts if it is fact-based conflict
Where a conflict is based on a point of fact it is important to establish the facts and get both parties to agree on these. Examples of fact-based conflict may include specific decisions taken, figures or resources. Remain calm and walk through the issue requesting confirmation of facts along the way. Each time a point of fact is confirmed, repeat the fact to the other person and get confirmation from them that they acknowledge it to be true. This keeps the discussion objective and ensures that all facts are identified, confirmed and acknowledged by all parties. Where a fact is not confirmed in the discussion, try and facilitate a commitment to confirm it later through an agreed process and by a given deadline.
- State feelings if it is perception-based conflict
Many conflict issues are based on how someone or a situation makes you feel. Bob calling you by a nickname and his tone makes you feel worthless and abused. You perceive him to be undermining your self worth and diminishing your position in the business. The method here is to explain to Bob that you've noticed him do this to you and that when he does this it makes you feel this way. You then state that when he does this it affects you individually, your relationship with him and your performance at work. You then ask Bob if he can agree to stop this behaviour. Don't get drawn into protracted discussion or taken off agenda. Just stick to the process of observation, feelings and outcome.
- Play the issue, not the person
Don't get sucked in to a slinging match. Things can escalate pretty quickly when you play the person rather than the issue. Attacking someone based on personal characteristics is a sure fire recipe for disaster. Agree to stay with the issue. Don't accept personal attacks and call Bob on it if he does.
- Be constructive not aggressive
Any fool can lose their temper. That takes no skill, no courage and certainly no control. Good operators know how to be constructive in tackling conflict. They use bridge building words like us, we, together, win-win and mutual. Great leaders seem to effortlessly empower people to change their behaviour, change their mind or even do things they may not wish to do.
- Talk rather than email
Email unfortunately has no tone, intonation or soul. Conflict resolution is best done between two people making eye contact, speaking from the heart about important risky issues. It is always better to speak and not escalate matters by "hand grenade" emails, rants or copying multiple parties in. The only time email can be used is where civil discussions have totally dissolved.
- Consider a facilitator
Use a Facilitator rather than a Mediator because mediation suggests that one party is found in favour of. A Facilitator can often keep people honest in terms of behaviour, honesty and agreed outcomes. This can also mitigate David and Goliath situations by providing equal balance for parties. It can help to have a competent witness to what took place, agreed actions and timelines.
- Acknowledge the facts, feelings and perceptions of both parties and agree on a mutual commitment to the future
This is the tough bit at the end of awkward discussions. It's so tempting to wriggle out of this. You've held your nerve and told Bob your feelings and frustrations. He listened to you and didn't bully or verbalise you. So far so good. But the strength of conflict resolution requires you to go that last yard and recap what's been discussed and state quite specifically what you've agreed upon for the future in regard to your behaviours and your relationship. Make sure you do this because it's the glue.
- Be prepared to take direct action if your agreement is breached
So Bob agreed to cease the behaviour you raised and stop calling you by nickname and using derogatory language. But what if he stops for a fortnight and then starts back up again. Well here's the punchline. You only have two choices. Choice One is to call him on it every time and escalate the issue from initially him individually to other parties with zero tolerance. This path once started only ends with complete cessation of this behaviour from Bob. Choice Two is to take drastic action in cutting your business partnership with Bob (selling your share), resigning from reporting to Bob if you're an employee, changing departments or other specific action that removes you from this toxic and destructive environment. But regardless of whether you take Choice One or Choice Two, the process has at least guaranteed an outcome to the conflict.
Darren Bourke, Director of Business Influence Pty Ltd. Darren Bourke is a Consultant, Business Coach & Mentor who helps small & medium businesses struggling to maximise profitability, productivity, people and performance. His Free Report titled What Successful Owners of Growth Businesses Do That You Don't, newsletter and updates are full of strategies and tips to make your business boom. Sign up now at http://www.businessinfluence.com.au/