Learning how to handle conflict efficiently is a necessary skill for anyone in management and can be key to prevent it from hindering employees’ professional growth. Conflict resolution uses a five-step process:
Step 1: Identify the source of the conflict. The more information you have about the cause of the conflict, the more easily you can help to resolve it. To get the information you need, use a series of questions to identify the cause, like, “When did you feel upset?” “Do you see a relationship between that and this incident?” “How did this incident begin?”
As a manager or supervisor, you need to give both parties the chance to share their side of the story. It will give you a better understanding of the situation, as well as demonstrate your impartiality. As you listen to each person, use active listening: “I see” or “uh huh” to acknowledge the information and encourage them to continue to share their view of what happened.
Step 2: Look beyond the incident. Often, it is not the situation but the perspective on the situation that causes anger to fester and ultimately leads to arguing or other visible—and disruptive—evidence of a conflict.
The source of the conflict might be a minor problem that occurred months before. The level of stress has grown to the point where the two parties have begun attacking each other personally instead of addressing the real problem. You can work to get them to look beyond the triggering incident to see the real cause. Once again, probing questions will help: “What do you think happened here?” or “When do you think the problem between you first arose?”
Step 3: Request solutions. After getting each party’s viewpoint about the conflict, the next step is to get each to identify how to change the situation. Question the parties to solicit their ideas: “How can resolve this between you?” or “What are you each willing to do to take a step toward working together again?”
As mediator, you have to be an active listener, be aware of verbal nuance, as well as a good reader of body language. Just listen. You want to get each person to stop fighting and start cooperating. That means steering the discussion away from finger pointing and toward ways of resolving the conflict. Chances are, each person has some accountability to creating the conflict.
Step 4: Identify solutions all involved can support. You are listening for the most acceptable course of action. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only from each other’s perspective, but in terms of the benefits to the organization. For instance, you might point to the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to effectively address team issues and departmental problems.
Step 5: Agreement. The mediator needs to get the two parties to perhaps shake hands and agree to one of the alternatives identified in Step 4. Some mediators go as far as to write up a contract in which actions and time frames are specified. However, it might be sufficient to meet with the individuals and have them answer these questions: “What action plans will you both put in place to prevent conflicts from arising in the future?” and “What will you do if problems arise in the future?”
Deborah Peck founded Seity Insight with one goal in mind: to enhance business effectiveness through people. She earned her Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, where she spent much of her time researching employee trust in leadership. Deborah uses her robust background in education, technology, leadership, and human behavior to aid organizations through major shifts; her science-based approach is unlike many others, as it maps the future of an organization through insight on existing human connections. If you’d like to learn more about Deborah or Seity Insight, click here.
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