Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

My last post dealt with whether it is more painful to deal with conflict than to avoid it. If you choose to avoid conflict, just know that it will not go away on its own. It will crop up again and again, often disguised as something else (the person ignores your emails, gives you the cold shoulder in meetings, or targets you as the subject of gossip and ridicule). I think it’s better to try to resolve the conflict, to make it go away forever. It can be a difficult conversation to be sure, but here are some general strategies and techniques to help guide you.

Prepare
Don’t attempt to resolve conflict in the heat of the moment. Allow time to calm down and collect your thoughts. Ask yourself: What is the real problem or issue and how is it interfering with my/our work? What, if anything, is getting in the way of our discussing the real issue? What do I want/need from the other party? What can I give to the other party?

Express yourself
Communicate your position clearly and thoroughly, providing specific examples pertaining to issues and behaviors rather than emotions and personalities. Be clear about what it is that you want. Many people are not able to express how they feel or to state what they want or need. Speaking your mind requires that you truly believe you have a right to voice your thoughts, wishes, and opinions.

Listen
Actively listen to the other person’s position. Ask questions to clarify. Check for accuracy and reflect back feelings to get a clear understanding of the issue/problem from the other person’s perspective. Seek to understand, even if you disagree. Probe for the person’s underlying concern or need.

Work Together
Build a partnership. Take responsibility for your part of the problem. Focus on issues of fairness. Seek to find commonalities. Summarize the apparent needs and desires of both parties. Try: “What I hear you saying is . . .” “This is how I see it . . .” “We both want . . .” Drawing on agreed upon points and shared needs and desires, discuss possible alternatives to solutions. Brainstorm! Be creative in exploring options.

Plan for Action
Select the solution that is mutually acceptable, even if it’s not perfect for either party. Agree on the details of what each party must do, who is responsible for implementing the various parts of the agreement, and what to do if the agreement breaks down.

Follow Up
Plan to meet again to monitor how well solutions are working.

Learn From the Conflict
Analyze the outcome. Ask yourself: Was the conflict resolved? If not, why not? Did I fully express my thoughts and feelings? Did I convey my needs and wants? Was I being fair-minded? What would I do differently next time?

The key to pulling off this kind of conversation is having strong communication skills in three areas: assertive speaking, active listening, and asking probing questions. Practice building these skills and see if you don’t get better at resolving conflict (or just about anything else that’s required of you as a manager).

I liked this book by Tim Ursiny. It appealed to my “scaredy cat” self.

Until next time . . .

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