Conflict is inevitable among human beings. Fortunately, ill feelings and communication breakdowns are avoidable in many circumstances. When conflict is handled constructively, it offers an opportunity to resolve root issues and improve the entire team’s engagement, productivity and trust in one another.
For more productive conflict resolution, apply this five-step process:
Find the cause of the conflict.
The better you understand the roots of the conflict, the easier it is to resolve those issues so the conflict does not return. Ask questions of both parties in the conflict and listen without making corrections or judgment. Questions like “When did this first start to become a problem?” “Is this event related to that one?” or “Then what happened?” can help your team feel heard while you dig to the bottom of the issue.
See the situation from both perspectives.
Often, feelings run high not because of the issue itself, but because of parties’ reactions to it. When you see the matter from each side, you can better understand why tempers are flaring. This makes it easier for you to refocus each person’s attention on the underlying issue: “I understand why you’re angry. What do you think would have prevented the issue in the first place?”
Ask for solutions.
When tempers are high, it’s easy for parties in a conflict to blame one another, rather than look for ways to fix the underlying problem. Help your team feel heard and included in the process by asking them to contribute ideas for addressing the issue, rather than attacking one another. Questions like “What procedure would you recommend?” help your team think beyond the personal conflict of the moment.
Narrow down the solutions to ones both sides can support.
When asking for solutions, focus on options both sides can accept and that meet your team’s needs. Point out the merits of workable solutions not only from the perspective of each party, but also for the team or the company. This helps refocus your team members’ attention on the greater good rather than their own grudge.
Focus on concrete change, not just agreement.
Avoid the risk that one or both parties will say “yes” just to get out of the conversation by asking for specific action plans from each party to prevent this conflict from returning. Also, ask each party what they plan to do if conflict does occur again.
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