We all have had to deal with conflict in the workplace.  It can be a real energy drain as people within and around the conflict focus on the negative and not the positive.  The result is decreased productivity and even worse,  potential danger for other employees.  As a leader, dealing with conflict is a key skill you must master.  So here are some recommended steps to take to resolve conflicts in a timely and efficient manner.

First, you must be able to recognize the conflict.  Some forms of conflict are subtle and not so blatant.  These subtle forms can include repeated negative attitudes or behaviors such as inappropriate use of humor-sarcasm or cynicism,  lack of care, empathy, and support of team members, interrupting others, appearing arrogant or a know it all, withholding of resources or information, etc.  These are all subtle because they are  interpreted by individuals who will interpret the behaviors based on their biases and experiences. Their interpretation will affect their relationship with the other person.  As a leader, you need to understand each of your team members’  behavior preferences so you can be alert to potential subtle conflicts which can ultimately escalate into much larger ones.  Then there is the more blatant behaviors such as yelling, intimidation, and continually not keeping commitments to others.

Second, research the situation by asking questions of those involved directly and indirectly.  Your questions should be data driven because the focus of your discussion with the individuals will be on the problem, not the individuals in conflict. Listen carefully to filter out opinions from facts. And be careful when asking questions to not “lead the witness”.  And finally, don’t share your opinions with those you are interviewing because of potential biases in their responses. Your job is to get all the necessary facts before facilitating a resolution.

Third, prior to a meeting with the team members in conflict establish meeting norms and guidelines with each member individually.  Get individual commitments from them that they will abide to the following: express themselves in an unemotional manner,  listen when another person is speaking-no interruptions, attempt to put themselves in the shoes of the other person, and commit to a certain date to make a final decision if you need to based on the meeting dialogue.

Fourth,  facilitate a meeting between the parties in conflict.  During this meeting acknowledge the problem you have identified during your research in a concise manner and communicate your role in the meeting as a facilitator. You are not there to solve the conflict but to facilitate the conversation so the conflicting parties can solve the problem themselves.  Remind them of the meeting guidelines they each agreed to before the conversation begins. And, set a time frame for the meeting and let them know that if the conflict can’t be resolved then a specific time will be set aside to pick up the conversation.  Be prepared to stop the meeting if someone isn’t abiding to their promise.

Coaching Tip:  When reminding them of the guidelines they agreed to add the following communication guidelines:

  1. Have them use “I” not “You” when making a declarative statement
  2. The words “never” and “always” should not be used

Fifth and final,  make your decision a timely one.  Your credibility and reputation as a leader is partially based on your decision making skills.  The inability to make a decisive decision during times of conflict can impact how you are viewed as a leader. Show your strength and you will build respect from those you lead.

In the end it is up to the leader to be skilled in questioning,  listening,  facilitating, and decision making to resolve conflicts in the workplace and insure that employees are both productive and safe.

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