If you manage or lead other people, it’s worth the effort to build up your conflict resolution tool box. Chances are that several times throughout a workday, you’ll discover conflicts, some will be brought to you, and you may even become aware that you’ve caused a few. However they get identified, once they’re in your view you have a responsibility to act. Conflicts left to simmer rarely sputter out, they usually gain momentum, size, and have the ability to negatively affect everyone around them. The better you get at helping your team move through them, the more time and energy you’ll all have engaging in whatever passions brought you together in the first place.
When it comes down to it, conflict resolution is an art form. There are so many variables that go into the nature of any conflict, it’s impossible to rely on a magic key or “one method to rule them all” to successfully resolve it. To do it well, you’ll need to call on your communication skills, rational reasoning, emotional intelligence, courage, and willingness to fail. You’ll also need a clear picture in your head of what conflict resolution looks like when it’s satisfying and effective.
In our organization, we’ve identified 4 conditions that, once met, would lead to successful conflict resolution.
- A plan is in place for resolution within 24 hours of discovering the conflict.
This doesn’t mean you need resolution within 24 hours, or that you will be the one that will be involved in the process. This is simply about putting a plan in place to resolve the conflict, within 24 hours of identifying it, so it can get addressed before it gets any bigger than it already is.
- All parties in the conflict have some responsibility in the resolution (they contribute and don’t expect the leader to “just fix it”).
Most people are are used to dropping their conflicts at the feet of direct supervisors and expecting them to do something about it (e.g., “Hey boss, they need to work faster. They shouldn’t show up pissed off all of the time,” etc.). It’s easy for teams to believe that’s why leaders are in their supervisory position. What’s missing with this practice is that the conflict-dropper rarely sees their own part in the conflict (“It’s their fault, I have nothing to do with this”), and they usually have one. They are also expecting someone else to express their thoughts and feelings for them, and to know exactly what their needs are so a perfect solution can be delivered. Inevitably, something gets assumed, filled-in, or lost in translation. A storm of mis-communication ensues, resulting in the conflict-dropper, the supervisor, and the person on the other side of the conflict feeling stuck and powerless.
If people are in a conflict, regardless of fault or blame or intention, they are in it and are the only ones who really know what it will take to get out of it. This condition orients the leader toward a supportive and facilitative role, and away from being the “doer.” It orients the players in the conflict to understand their part in it, create their path out of it, and sustain a stronger relationship moving forward.
- The resolution leaves all parties involved feeling understood and as whole as possible.
People want their voice heard and their needs validated. This condition asks that each person in the conflict is extended the same level of respect, attention, and understanding that they expect for themselves. Finding a way to do this will eliminate the illusion that one person is getting favorable treatment over the other, and will shine light on common ground that can satisfy everyone’s needs (including the greater team).
- The people in conflict move forward together with a new understanding of how to be in the relationship in a satisfying and effective way.
Conflicts are fueled by judgements and “me vs. them” mentalities. If people are able to hold onto them, they’ll stay stuck in the story they’re telling themselves about how the other person should or shouldn’t be acting. Neither party will acquiesce to the other’s suggestions (no matter how nicely they’re offered), and they’ll end up in a perpetual stalemate. Successful resolution means that they’ve jumped out of their limiting stories, share a new one that contributes to their well-being, and are committed to showing up for one another in ways that infuse understanding and compassion into their relationship. Identifying specific actions and behaviors that will protect their mutual well-being is key in this step, along with a plan for who will keep them accountable for doing them.
We chose these four conditions for several reasons:
- They are borne out of our belief that lasting change and growth comes from gaining commitment – that people are more willing to engage in new behaviors and plans when they had a real part in creating them.
- They support our efforts to empower teams and individuals to have ownership over situations that relate specifically to them.
- They promote self- and shared accountability to the purpose and values of the team they’re on.
- They also give plenty of space for the leader to get creative with their methods and, through trial and error, find their own, authentic style for facilitating resolution within the organization.
Increasing your ability to help your team turn conflict from productivity and energy-zapping dramas into opportunities for growth, creativity, and well-being is fundamental to your success as a leader. What conflict resolution methods have you practiced or observed that were successful? Why do you think they worked? Which haven’t done so well, and why? If you’ve got room in your toolbox for a few more useful ones, check back with us next week as we highlight the tools that we keep coming back to.
Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.
Tip Card – 1 minute read
Unstuck, the brilliant brainchild of design-oriented consulting firm SYPartners, offers a series of worksheets and tip cards that help individuals generate the perspective and momentum they need to get clear of roadblocks that are in their way of personal success. Find them all in one place by clicking here: Tools by SYPartners.
This tip card is about change. Conflict resolution, at it’s very essence, is all about change. Changing the story. Changing the trajectory. Changing behavior. Changing relationships. Take these quotes for what they are, and also run them through the lens of conflict resolution. Thanks Unstuck!