7 Conflict Resolution Steps for the Workplace

As a conflict management practitioner, I’ve found it important to assist people in understanding the 7 steps of resolving conflict that will provide the tools and understanding to resolve the conflict in the most efficient, effective manner.

What are the 7 steps to resolving conflict?

Self-Reflection   

To be able to convey to someone else why you have felt hurt, concerned, angry or bewildered you must first understand what created the reaction within yourself. Sometimes we bring aspects of our personal life into the workplace, so when someone states something to us we may take offense because we are already in a heightened state of emotion. We may be wearing our grey colored glasses to work instead of the rose color glasses. Dealing with aspects, be it inside or outside of the workplace, it can have an effect on how we perceive a situation. We may also find that by answering the self-reflective questions there may not be anything to resolve but more so an understanding to be created. The reflective questions will look similar to this.

        1. What was going on for me that day that may have contributed to why I responded the way I did?
        2. What unmet need, concern, hope or expectation triggered within because of this event?
        3. What could be going on for the other person that may have contributed to why they responded they way they did?
        4. What is important for me to share with the other person to help them understand why I responded the way I did?
        5. What action might I have exhibited (body language, tone, actions), that may have escalated the situation?
        6. What is something I could do differently next time that may prevent the situation escalating?                                                                   

The invitation

 This step is the one that many clients have stated is the scariest for them. If you don’t get it right you could possibly be making the situation worse. If you are not prepared to set the stage properly, the chances of having a successful conversation will be greatly diminished. Think of this situation – the employee rushes into the director’s office and demands a conversation right then and there. Without the knowledge of the employee, the director is preparing for a meeting that will be taking place in 15 minutes;  they are reviewing their notes in preparation for the presentation. If the director agrees to have this conversation, how well do you think they will be actively listening, or be open to looking for resolutions with you when they have 2 minutes left to get to their next meeting? By requesting a time that works for both of you,  it shows respect for their time and provides a greater opportunity to actively listen and spend time brainstorming resolutions.

The next step of the invitation is the location. Never engage in a conversation that should be held behind closed doors when you are in an open or communal area. If possible book a boardroom even if you are meeting with the director and they have their own closed-door office.  There will be fewer distractions such as ringing phones, email notification coming in on the office computer and people knocking at the door to see if you have a few minutes of the director’s time.  You have shown respect for their time, booked a neutral, private location, what’s next? 

The participants may ask what is the meeting in regards to. Frame the purpose of the meeting in a broad sense with a joining message of effort to resolve the situation together. Example ” John would you have time on Tuesday for a meeting at 2:00 pm to discuss the structure of our meetings and how we can increase participation? I really want your input so we can find a way to ensure we have everyone’s perspectives on the topics on the agenda”.  (John is quite the extrovert, and interrupts people in the meeting, giving his opinion before allowing them to give their full presentation)

Personal Perspective

Each participant has their perspective of what is causing the conflict or even if the conflict actually exists for them. Try sharing your concerns, hopes, needs or unmet expectations that have triggered a reaction within you. If there are two participants there are also two stories or perceptions in the room. It is sometimes amazing how people may see the same incident so differently. We contribute these differences to the uniqueness of each individual, their work history, experience, age, upbringing, current outside relationship with their family, workload and current workplace events. Many aspects of life around us contribute to how we create our story. No story is ever the right story and the other wrong, they both are to be considered true for each participant.  It is not imperative to convince the other party to see the situation from your view, just respect what they say is their truth. Seek to understand the other parties’ perspective first, then share your story.

Identify the Resolution

Now we start to identify what needs to be resolved. Is it to build an understanding as to why each of you reacted the way you did? Or is there something specific that can be actioned to assist in developing tools to respond when the next situation occurs? Even if it is acknowledged that it may be the actions of one person that is causing the situation to be seen as disrespectful, or offensive, the party who has been offended can assist with bringing awareness of an action that may happen on the unconscious level to the conscious level and then assisting with correcting the behavior together.

Communication

Communicate in a way that feels balanced, respectful and future-focused. Here are a few tips and tools to ensure you have a productive conversation. 

        1. Using “I” statements – by using the I statements you are staying away from using accusatory words like –  “You” which will solicit defensiveness in the other participant. When using “I” statements you are defining your story.
        2. Active listening means staying out of your head. Be curious, be open to hearing what they have to say, don’t judge, don’t give solutions. Write down any questions you may have which will allow you to not interrupt; also write down statements you have heard that are important to them.
        3. Reflect back/ summarize, what you have heard them saying that is important, that you have in common, and what may be different from what you may have in your memory of the situation. Ask for clarification of details. When stating your view try to tie as many aspects that you heard from them to your view of the situation that is similar. 

Solutions

Developing solutions together, considering the aspects of what is important to both of you from personal perspective and add specifics as to who, where and when. We are at the step where you start to look at future-focused actions and what that can look like for this situation. What are some possible solutions that we could implement that will help to resolve this situation? Don’t judge any suggestion at this time just write as many possible solutions no matter how crazy they seem to be; just write. After you have spent as much time as you feel you should have dedicated to this step, look at all of the suggestions made. What may evolve is that there may not be one perfect solution, yet you may think if we take this piece  from that solution and put it with this piece of the solution we may just have created the perfect solution. How can you tell if you have a solution that provides the greatest possibility for success possible? Go back to personal persepective and look at what each participant states that would be important to them to build a resolution. Have you met as many of the expectations as possible? If the answer is no, what would it take or how could you modify the current solution you’re looking at to meet more of the expectation?

The Agreement

Writing up the agreement and followup – Once you have landed on a solution, or solutions, look at putting specifics behind each of them. Who will be accountable for what aspect and by when?  Share the load, look at your timelines, workload and each of your strengths and weakness when making the decisions. Thank each other for the open and honest conversation, and building this agreement to make your working relationship better. Understanding that this agreement is a living document, meaning as you implement aspects of it, you may have to come back to it and tweak some of the details. allow for grace if you slip or take a step backward and be able to hit the reset button and try again.

Resolving conflict whether it be in the workplace, in the community between neighbors or in your personal relationship, it all starts with a respectful conversation. Be comfortable enough within the conversation to share what is at the core of what is really causing the situation to materialize or escalate to a level that it can be seen as a major challenge between the individuals. Allow each other grace, understanding and forgiveness and then the opportunity to show that we can all improve how we coexist with each other.