Conflict, whether great or small, is a normal part of life and the workplace. While conflict is a necessary, and even healthy part of business, clashing personalities, pride and opposing viewpoints often take it to the point of contention, where it can end up being very negative. When this happens, be it ever so undesirable, it’s management’s job to step in. Keeping things cool and calm during one of these situations can be difficult and messy. Here are a few tips on how to handle it without drama:
Step 1: Confront the problem
The only way to take care of an issue is to first admit that it exists. Avoidance and denial only delay conflict; they don’t resolve it. If you simply cover a wound with a band aid, it will fester rather than heal. Once you recognize that there’s a problem, it’s best to rip the band aid off and treat the wound by addressing the issue quickly and directly.
Step 2: Understand the problem
Conflict doesn’t necessarily involve a full-blown fight or a heated argument. Conflicts at their essence occur when one party has a need that another party has not met. In order to resolve a conflict, you have to start by understanding what that need is. Trained mediators often begin their sessions by asking each person separately how they view the issue and their standpoint on the situation. The mediators listen without interrupting and then restate or paraphrase what they’ve heard to ensure they’ve understood.
Step 3: Search for solutions
After you understand what the problem is, you can discuss possible solutions with each party. Together you can determine the practicality of each option and decide on the best resolution.
Step 4: Focus on the present
Everyone’s goal needs to be a resolution to the problem, not ‘being right.’ It also isn’t progressive or productive to rehash how the problem started. As you mediate, make sure the conversation focuses on resolving present issues, not on dredging up the past.
Step 5: Put it in writing
Once you’ve decided on a solution, it’s preferable to get it on paper. This can be a very simple document, but it’s nice to have when one party has a dispute later on. Paperwork isn’t necessary for small issues, but it doesn’t hurt.
Step 6: Act and follow up
Once everything is decided, the parties need to act. Depending on the solution, it may be worth setting out a timeline or deadlines for action and then following up. If things don’t go as planned, you can adjust the timeline or the solution until it’s more achievable.
Step 7: Know when to let someone go
Some individuals are prone to contention, and there may come a time when you need to cut ties. Constantly acting as mediator is exhausting and will ultimately cost your company more than the resolution is worth. If you find that an employee or client is costing more than they’re producing, have a talk with them and make a clean cut. Be brief, direct, and kind. Don’t hash out who’s at fault or allow the conversation to become emotional or heated. Simply set the terms for ending their employment or services and wrap things up. It’s also worthwhile to send a follow up letter or email to confirm the end of your relationship and the terms of the termination.
The best way to resolve conflict is through consistent, open communication. If you create a culture of honesty and understanding, you will rarely need these steps. However, for those occasional moments of conflict, in the workplace or outside of it, these steps should help you neutralize the situation and leave both sides satisfied.