Keep Conflict Resolution Simple

As the leader of the team, you may occasionally find yourself the referee between two people who are upset with each other.  Perhaps you are one of the upset parties but no matter.  If an encounter or situation between people affects productivity then you have to deal with it.  There are a couple of key elements in the solution that are critical to understand that will facilitate a faster resolve and get people talking and back to work.

  1. DO NOT pursue compromise.  Compromise doesn’t work and people are not in the frame of mind to learn from the situation.  The word compromise has so many different definitions that just getting agreement on the word itself is distracting.  People don’t want agreement, they want to be right.  Their radar is on for fairness as to why they shouldn’t have to compromise or why they are compromising more.  That motivates a whole other endless discussion so don’t focus on compromise.
  2. DO start with the bigger picture. People argue in the detail so if you want to resolve a dispute, do not begin conversations in the detail.  Always set up the bigger picture of what the team or you as the boss are working towards and get agreement on it.  Therefore, this discussion, all future discussions, needs, beliefs can be evaluated as moving towards that big picture or not.  When little fires break out they can be quashed quickly because they don’t move the conversation towards the goal they just agreed on.   Let’s talk more about this idea.

Take a recent example where a VP (Jennifer) shut down a person on the team (Scott) while in the midst of doing a presentation.  Jennifer was in bullet point mode and Scott wanted to tell the whole story so Jennifer abruptly shut Scott down leaving him stung.  He’s mad so he calls in sick the next two days, the project stalls and now Jennifer is mad about that.  The exact wrong thing to do is get the two of them togethers and start the conversation with psycho-babble questions like:

  • Jennifer, you clearly lost your patients with Scott in the meeting, can you share why?
  • Scott, why did you feel Jennifer shut you down?

Starting any conversation with this detail only leads to more disagreement and flared tempers.  It is better to start these resolve type conversations with big picture concepts like:

  • What we are working towards is for both of you to enjoy working on projects as part of the team.
  • Scott, Jennifer, what does the organization need from you in a meeting?
  • Scott, Jennifer, describe what you want your working relationship or the environment to be like.
  • Scott, Jennifer, how will you prepare differently to get that relationship you described?

Now every time a petty comment is made or childish attitude takes over, you can ask the players, “how does that get us to the result of enjoying working on projects together?”  When the baseline concept has already been set, people don’t get of course as frequently or stay off course as long.  With this approach, people see how their petty emotions take away from the bigger goal and that is often convincing enough to change behaviors.  Clarity is always more valuable than being right.  Establishing what you, the organization, the team, and the meeting are working towards keeps people focused on the bigger better reason and that gets them producing sooner.