- Peter M. Senge
Many of the questions that I answer concern relationships in the workplace. Often "conflict" is seen as something to avoid or ignore, but conflict itself is neither good nor bad, but a reality. Because of the diversity of people's values, attitudes, beliefs, motives and goals, every business owner or organization leader must face that no two people will agree all the time and more likely there will have to be some resolution.
Conflict should not be perceived as a problem. Dynamic businesses and organizations should be in a constant state of adaptation and improvement. How conflict is handled has to be with a clear picture for all concerned of the purpose and vision of the organization.
The following are basic techniques commonly used to manage conflict:
nCall a Time-Out: If possible, plan to allow for a 'cooling off' period where more information can be gathered while tempers cool down. This is the opportunity to plan the best problem-solving approach that will work with the parties involved and maintain positive relationships. Look for shared interests and goals.
nAssess the parties involved:
Do they have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic? Are they difficult or just negative (Basement People)? Is it personal? What are their needs or motivations? What kind of learners are they (visual, auditory, or tactile)?
nThink Win-Win: Stephen Covey's Habit 4: Think Win-Win is about changing conflict into cooperation. Begin by setting the 'Ground Rules' and if handled with respect and a positive concern that both sides will have a voice, conflict can be a positive thing. In fact, it can lead to growth of the organization and an opportunity to encourage feedback. Simply saying, "I want to know what has caused you to be upset," can begin the process of solving the problem. Repeat what you heard the person say and get their confirmation that you understood correctly.
nAsk for collaboration: Encourage the parties to research the problem and try to come up with a way of solving their needs while creating an opportunity. This technique is the most time-consuming, but the most effective for coming up with a win/win resolution of conflict. Participants openly discuss all relevant information, concerns, and needs for all parties. all parties must be committed to and supportive of the resolution.
nPractice active listening: Staying calm, controlling your emotions, and recognizing non-verbal skills such as facial expression or tone of voice will help you manage the conflict by building trust. Deal with facts, not "drama." Ask questions that are non-threatening and repeat what you think you heard and wait for the positive response that you got it correct.
According to Roger Fisher and William Ury, authors of "Getting to YES," "More and more occasions require negotiation; conflict is a growth industry."
A last thought - If conflict is a natural part of business and life, maintain a positive frame of mind by addressing the problem, not personalities. Giving all parties some involvement in the decision-making process will go a long way in handling differences that occur. We want to always send a message that their opinions and concerns have been considered.
Barbara Hickey of Mableton is a community volunteer and owner of The Etiquette School of Atlanta