Individuals in conflict with one another each carry into it a complex mix of personal history, biases, fears, and needs. They are also the only ones that know exactly what transpired from the beginning of the conflict to the moment it was identified for resolution. Each needs to be able to express their perspective honestly, and without blame. Each needs to feel heard and understood without running into a wall of defense and excuses from the other person. When they’re able to do this, they start unravelling their judgements and misunderstandings with one another. This opens up a space from which they can see common ground and work toward new feelings and behaviors, and a better relationship overall.
When the people in conflict are unable to resolve it on their own, leaders get called in to take action. At Vestalia, we’ve defined criteria for successful resolution that can be met in many ways (click to read more), so leaders can follow their instincts on what tools or methods to use in different situations. Over time, we have found that following one process in particular has the highest success rate – it’s when leaders facilitate a dialogue between the people in conflict.
There are a lot of ways to guide this type of conversation. We follow a six-step creative dialogue process* that results in people connecting more authentically with the resolution plan. They are also able to make organic changes in behavior and action that lead to lasting well-being in the situation or relationship.
Here is a brief breakdown of what happens in the six stages of our conflict resolution dialogue:
After everyone is welcomed and steps are taken to create connection and understanding of what will transpire, the conflict is stated.
Each person takes a turn voicing their experience in the conflict, and identifying the needs that they feel are not getting met
- Goal – For each person to express themselves fully, and believe that the other has listened and now understands where they’re coming from
- What It’s Not About – Slinging judgements at one another, defending intent or actions, proving someone’s right and someone’s wrong
- Answers the Questions “What’s contributing to well-being in this situation or relationship? What is missing that would contribute to well-being if you had it?”
- The Key – Stay in this part of the conversation as long as possible. Keep asking each party if there is anything else they need the other person to understand before you move onto the next step.
- A Tip – Periodically pause the speaker’s narrative and ask the listener to mirror back what they’re hearing. This gives each of them a chance to confirm that they are sharing the same understanding of what the speaker is intending to say.
Brainstorm possibilities for how this situation or relationship could bring them to well-being
- Goal – To find common ground and see that there are directions they can move in together
- What It’s Not About – Telling one another what they should do to fix the situation
- Answers the Question – “What does it look and feel like when this situation or relationship is satisfying and effective?”
- The Key – Encourage them to get all of their ideas out in the open, big to small, even ones they see merit in yet are not sure anyone will really go for
- A Tip – Each person identified what they believe they need to be present to resolve this conflict, often those needs transfer to this step as possibilities (i.e., if you heard “I feel disrespected by them” or “I need them to respect me,” in step one, increasing respect becomes a possibility in step 2)
Assess the possibilities and together choose a direction forward
- Goal – To commit to the possibilities that they authentically believe will make a positive difference and can actually be accomplished
- What It’s Not About – Participants going along with ideas they don’t truly support
- Answers the Question – “Which of these possibilities will you invest time and effort into, that also are aligned with your individual needs and values?”
- The Key – Pay close attention to non-verbals and tone as they’re confirming their commitment. Ask your gut if you believe each is really going to get behind these possibilities and don’t move on until the answer is yes.
- A Tip – You might have to go back a few steps if anyone senses that there isn’t true commitment
Define a strategy
- Goal – To collaboratively develop and agree on an action plan that will reasonably help them achieve their shared goal/s
- What It’s Not About – One person (facilitator or participant) coming up with how it’s all going to work and handing out orders
- Answers the Question – “How are you going to get from where you are to where you’ve committed to going?”
- The Key – Encourage them to get creative and find a game plan that is more engaging than marching forward with obvious next steps
- A Tip – You may find that looping back to Step 1 or 2 could be helpful in generating a plan that both parties can commit to
Get on the same page about who is doing what, and when; then initiate the new actions and behaviors
- Goal – To ensure that everyone shares an understanding of their roles and responsibilities from the action plan
- What It’s Not About – Rehashing the strategy
- Answers the Question – “What specifically are each of you responsible for, and how are you going to show up differently in this situation or relationship?” (People outside of the conflict, including the facilitator, may have roles or responsibilities that support the resolution plan)
- The Key – This part is the last step before the plan is put in place. It also serves as the foundation for what they’ll hold themselves and each other accountable for as they move forward, and how they’ll give feedback to one another.
- A Tip – Stay out of abstract ideas and get more specific about what the plan entails (from “We’ll just be nicer to one another” to “We’ll make a point to greet each other each shift and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ consistently”)
Get them together after some time has passed to follow up
- Goal – To reflect and recognize what’s going on now in the relationship and situation, how it feels to be in it
- What It’s Not About – Checking off a final task in the process, exchanging obligatory responses to “how’s it going?”
- Answers the Question – “What are we doing that’s contributing to our well-being, what is still missing that we need to make happen?”
- The Key – This provides an opportunity for each person to assess whether the plan they’ve been following is achieving the results they were aiming for. They celebrate their successes, and identify what is missing (e.g., part of the plan isn’t working, someone didn’t do their part, etc.). Start this process all over again at step one if anything is still feeling unsettled.
- A Tip – This step is often the one people skip completely, even though it’s crucial to ensuring and sustaining resolution. If you’re afraid you and the participants will gloss over this, schedule a time to reconvene during step 4 or 5.
There are a lot of nuances in a facilitated dialogue. This style of conflict resolution is a craft, you’ll develop and shape your skills through experience and repetition. If you’ve never experienced one before or want to further your understanding of the process, find a guide to help you dig into it more deeply. Sit in on these conversations as an observer if you can, and get practice facilitating them early and often. Make a habit of analyzing your efforts with others on your team so you can all learn from mistakes and successes together, and create your own language around it. The time and energy you put into this will pay off immeasurably.
*The six steps that we follow for conflict resolution dialogue are defined by the Mobius Model, a communication tool developed by Marjorie Herdes and William Stockton, PhD. (link to website).
Thank you to Carl Blanz, Michelle Nordhaugen, and Patrick O’Brien of Growing Edge Facilitation for being guides in my continued understanding of the Mobius Model.
Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.
Video, 7-minute duration
If you want to hear what a facilitated dialogue sounds like, this clip features Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, describing a compelling example of the needs-focused method he uses for conflict resolution. He also gives a brief and intuitive explanation of the evolution of his theory.
From the Center for NVC’s website:
“With Nonviolent Communication (NVC) we learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC helps us discover the depth of our own compassion. This language reveals the awareness that all human beings are only trying to honor universal values and needs, every minute, every day.”
Article, 4-minute read
Leadership Guide for Handling Conflict, by Anne Loehr
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve all developed a go-to style for handling conflict. It’s been shaped by many things over time, including our unique experiences, self-image, and perceived status of power. We’ve also organically learned and employed other ways to respond in conflict. Taking time to understand what some basic archetypes for showing up in conflict are can increase our ability to choose a method for handling it that is appropriate for the situation. Enter the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI).
This article gives a brief summary of the 5 TKI conflict-handling styles, along with some tips about when and when not to use them. Check it out to learn more about Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating, and Avoiding (and see which ones you and the people on your team employ most!).
Video and Podcast – 45 to 55 minute duration each
Previously on this blog, I highlighted a podcast and video by author Daniel Shapiro that featured his theories on conflict resolution and negotiation. They are amazing resources if you want to dive deep into the DNA of conflict, and get other ideas about how to help people get out of them. Click here to go back to that post and access the links.