We’re in the second month of our Conflict Management Series. Last month we addressed Prevention. This month, we’re exploring Resolution.
Often times, people think that an effective way to resolve conflict is to put everything on the table and then try to solve the issue from there. In fact, this is the way I was trained many years ago to facilitate conflict resolution. On rare occasions this is the best option. But today we’re finding that there are even more effective ways. In fact, the “everything on the table” solution often just exacerbates the issue. Usually by the time people have finished unloading their grievances, everyone at the table is much more aggravated about the situation than when they started. After hearing certain opinions, those in the group may only be able to focus on the negative comments that were just aired and not on the task at hand.
One useful technique I use with to help clients resolve conflict is helping the parties come together to understand what their common goal is, and working from there. It is much more conducive to start from a place of positivity—the light at the end of the tunnel, a goal that everyone can rally around—and then help the group determine the best path to reach it.
Once the common goal is established, I ask my clients, “What are you already doing to work toward the goal?” This often builds more confidence, and calms people down. Then I ask, “What else must happen in order to reach it? What can you do differently to get there?” This is where the problems are addressed more directly, but still far more positively than just blasting each other.
These questions help people think more rationally instead of being in fight or flight mode. They are thinking of solutions, and hopefully resolving negative issues and feelings in their drive to work together.
During one of the first conflict management interventions I was asked to do, the engineer who ran the 50-person department was a classic introvert who had not built strong relationships with his employees. He would walk down the hall and not meet anyone’s eye; he would often give terse responses; and he would hold quick meetings and look at his laptop the entire time. All of these actions were indicative of his anxiety, shyness and preoccupation with department issues, but they were being interpreted as the manager being aloof, angry and generally a bad communicator. His department was up in arms and, as a result, was inefficient and not performing to its ability.
I helped him establish the goal for his group: to transform into a high-functioning department. We determined that in order for this to happen, the department needed heroic leadership, meaning that he as a leader would have to lead from the front. He would have to say, “This is the change I’m personally making in order to move toward the goal. I’m going to have one-on-one meetings with everybody and get to know you all. Now what do you need to do to help reach the goal as well?”
It takes guts to be the first to identify and implement change. The truth is that he was heroic; it’s terrifying to be that vulnerable, but he did it and saw results.
By giving everyone an opportunity to talk about the one change they will make (versus the one change you want them to make), people can take ownership and the result will be a high-energy session that leaves your team invigorated. If you give people a positive way to get to a better solution, the results will be more positive as well.
I encourage you to start with the goal the next time you’re in a conflict situation—small or large, at work or at home—and see how that situation immediately changes.