Rules of Authentic Conflict Resolution

Posted Friday, February 12, 2010

Rule #1: There will be conflict
The workplace is a microcosm of the world. Disagreements, hurt feelings, gossip, power-plays, name calling, and misunderstandings happen at work every day. The question is not “if” but “when”—and your response is critical to your career, not to mention your mental health.

Rule #2: Conflict will not resolve itself.
In fact, it will usually just get worse. Lack of communication will breed more conflict and co-workers will continue to misinterpret each other’s actions. Sooner or later, the conflict will start effecting how work is done. Maybe it is no big deal right now, but if two colleagues are avoiding each other, pretty soon two departments might avoid each other—causing a company to lose money—and maybe even causing someone to lose their job.

Rule #3: Conflict is an opportunity to change a relationship (for better or worse).
Those who believe that conflict should be avoided at all costs do not experience the benefits of relationships that move past conflict and into understanding. These benefits most likely won’t include friendship (although this is possible) but they often include a better working environment, a new respect for each other, and a method for dealing with small issues in the future..

Those that believe that conflict should be dealt with but don’t know how, also do not experience the benefits from handling a conflict appropriately. They experience the power plays, gossip, cold shoulders, and disrespect that comes from conflict gone awry. Rule #4 deals with some common mistakes that are made in the workplace.

Rule #4: Never use e-mail or even voicemail to resolve a disagreement.
This should really be rule #1 because it is so important and the mistake is so common. E-mail has fooled us into thinking that we are in an actual conversation with someone. The tendency to use e-mail for all types of communication (from friendly hellos to official business) has created confusion about what is appropriate.

Maybe you know someone who is conflict avoidant—maybe you see that person in the mirror every morning. E-mail and voice mail are a godsend to those of us who have an issue but don’t want deal with the immediate consequences. The problem is that communication requires two people and voice inflection, body language, and eye contact make a big difference in working through a conflict.

  • Face to face is best
  • Direct phone conversation is second best

Promise yourself right now that you will not use e-mail or voicemail when you are mad. And do it. The consequences can be serious if you don’t.

Rule #5: Be deliberate—aim for an agreement, not perfection.
Use a four step process in order to resolve conflict.

1. Go straight to the person—do not go through supervisors, etc..  
  • Listen closely to the other person’s side and work hard to understand why they took the actions they took.
  • Carefully explain your side being very careful to not accuse. Don’t blame—only accept responsibility for what you could have done better.
  • Outline the steps you will take in the future to avoid causing the problem and propose any general solutions that reduce the problem.
  • Usually the one thing that could be done better is communication—that is why it is critical that the conflict is resolved in a professional manner.
2. If nothing else is resolved during the first meeting, keep going back as long as there is still a chance of resolving the conflict.

3. Sometimes face to face resolution doesn’t work—this is where workplace conflict gets tricky. Now you must decide if should bring in supervisors, human resources, or other neutral third parties. When making your decision remember the following points.
  •  Weigh what you have to gain vs. what you have to lose. Things you can gain or lose include respect, reputation, your job, opportunities, peace of mind, pride, and many other unintended consequences.
  • Know your company culture and how conflict is handled. Some companies would like any conflict to be swept under the rug. Relationships aren’t always considered important. Hard work, P/L statements, titles, and seniority are considered more important .
  • HR departments should be neutral but often are not. Do not be naïve about confidentiality. Your company may have “tight-lipped” hr associates but you should be confident of that before taking a conflict to them.
  • Escalate right away if you believe there is harassment occurring or if any ethics rules are being broken.

4. Make your decision to include others—your supervisor and/or HR and follow it through.  Do not expect everything to go smoothly but aim for a professional resolution.

Are you using workplace conflict to help yourself grow? Maybe now is the time to start.

Check out our last 6 eNewsletters:

November 4, 2016--Crossing the Continental Divide (Both Literally and Metaphorically)

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