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Conflict Resolution: A Step By Step Guide to Resolving Conflict

Conflict is one of life’s most constant factors.

In fact, it is one of the highest cost factors in today’s workplace. According to one US study, the cost of conflict in the USA workplace was approximately 359 billion in 2017. That averages out to just under 3 hours per week, per employee in the USA.

Conflict happens every day and to everyone. There is a possibility of conflict occurring within every interaction we have with another individual. It does not matter if it’s at home, work, within your community or the stores where you shop; conflict can transpire anywhere.

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” – Max Lucade

A powerful side effect of conflict is its innate ability to create stress within our lives. Whether it is not knowing how to resolve it, or even if we should proceed to attempt to resolve it, for most people, these thoughts will bring some level of stress to our lives.

What makes the difference is how we respond or react to the conflict, which determines if what we experience ends up being a negative or a positive experience.

Experience conflict in a positive way, what? How can dealing with conflict be a positive beneficial experience?  Well, here it is… by dealing with conflict in a respectful, collaborative way you develop a deeper understanding of the individual/people that you are in conflict with. You learn new aspects of what motivates them, empowers them and also what may trigger them. By developing this deeper understanding of who they are as our spouse, partner, co-worker, manager, CEO, community leader or even our teenager, we build something that may never have occurred had we have not come into conflict with them.

Well, the good news is, there is a format on how to assist you in resolving conflict. The bad news is people are afraid to try it. Why, because people are afraid to make matters even worse.  So, we choose not to address the issue. Even though that in itself can make matters worse.

I will layout a format for having a conversation to resolve conflict and even though you may stumble through it, believe me when I say you will be amazed when you experience a truly collaborative conversation. And to top it off you will most likely resolve the situation that brought you to the conflict discussion in the first place.

Let me first start by building an understanding of when you may define yourself as being in conflict. You may not even know that you are in conflict with someone until you get that death stare, silent treatment, receive a notice from your boss or hear from a roommate, colleague or co-worker that you’re involved in a conflict. An incident may have occurred that you are not aware has offended someone, as there are many aspects today that each individual finds offensive. Words we commonly use or how we say something, body language or an action taken may be perceived by another individual as a negative action. I have mediated many cases where the accused was never made aware of what they did or said, thus never being given the opportunity to explain the intent or lack of conscious awareness of the offensive behavior. In short, you may or may not be aware that you are in conflict with another person.

Conflict can be perceived to begin at a very early stage in the challenge and some only see conflict beginning with escalation (raised voices, tone, body language).

Whenever a conflict is deemed to exist there is one common factor it needs to be resolved.  Sure, not all situations need the formal conversation and they may go away within a few days, but what we are speaking of here is if there is an issue that is affecting how we interact with each other or impacting how we do our jobs, it does need to be resolved.  By avoiding conflict, we only create an environment for passive-aggressive behavior, splitting of teams, silence where there should really be communication, and disengagement of social interactions.

Let’s look at a format of how we can address conflict in a way that won’t make matters worse, allow for grace if a mistake was made, and to really build an understanding of why the situation happened the way it did, and how our perception may have played a part in how we saw the series of events.

Step – 1 – Clarify Your Perception

Why is it important for us to look at the issue/incident from our perspective first?  Well sometimes to be truthful we all have had a bad day and woke up in a not-so-pleasant mood. Whatever is causing us to have a bad day (kids not getting ready, illness, lack of sleep, stress, finances, etc.) affects how we perceive the interactions we have with other individuals throughout the day. By reviewing the questions I have listed below, it will help you gain a greater perspective of what is important to you, what you feel needs to be resolved, along with generating thoughts as to what some solutions could be.

Self Reflection Question

  1. What was going on for me on that day, weather, kids, team, work, family, etc.?

  2. How have things been at work/home, busy, changes, new management, new processes, lack of staff, potential layoffs or looking for work?

  3. When I reflect on the incident, what was the first sense that something had offended or upset me? Try to be specific, was it what was said (words used), how it was said(tone), body language (finger-pointing, assertive). In order to help the other person fully understand what happened and how it made you feel some of these details may assist in building that understanding.

  4. What could be going on for the other person? Do you know of any background on them based on the questions above? Are they dealing with any of these external issues?

  5. Do I feel this situation has escalated since the original incident, and now there needs to be a further conversation to build resolution or understanding on how you could have addressed it sooner, without escalation?

  6. What might be something I could have done to have addressed this situation at the time it happened?

  7. What might be something you could offer today that you feel may assist in resolving this conflict?

  8. Is there something you would like to share with the other individual that would help build the understanding behind why this situation had the impact it did on you?

After you have answered these questions you are ready to extend the invitation.

Step 2 – Send the Invitation

Timing is everything. Give yourself 24 hours to review your self-reflective questions. Once you have identified that there is an issue to be resolved, do not wait too long to extend the invitation. Within a week works best. Make sure that you are respectful of people’s busy schedules. Don’t avoid the situation or allow them to avoid the conversation. People truly do not like conflict so they may try every angle to avoid having this conversation with you. If it comes down to asking them to go for coffee, so it doesn’t appear to be as formal or scary as a formal conversation, then try that method.

Let’s set the stage for the conversation. If possible, ask the person face to face. The next best method is by phone. If there is no other means, or you have struggled to connect, then proceed by email.

There are 2 elements to initializing an invitation.

  1. Show Respect for your time and theirs. Ask what time would they have approximately one hour to have a conversation with you. They may try to state that they are very busy and do not have time this week or next. Let them know it is important to you to have this conversation if there is any place within their schedule where they may have 30 min you will take that.  Don’t let them avoid the conversation altogether.  Remember they may be as scared as you are.

“Tony, would you have time on Wednesday at 2 pm for a 1-hour conversation with me?”

2. Let them know if they ask, what the meeting is regarding.  Be brief, and don’t get into the full detail of the conversation right then and there.

“Janet, thanks for asking. Last week in our monthly meeting a few things came up that I would like to speak to you about and I’m sure that together we can develop some great solutions on how to improve the team members’ contributions.”

Step 3 – Set the Environment

Where and how you choose to have the meeting can play an important role in the outcome. When possible, book a private room. Make sure that there is availability to host your discussion in a private setting. Hosting in the open area or in your boss’s office has various drawbacks. Booking in a boardroom away from your floor has the best opportunity for success. If this is not an option, ensure that you are somewhere both you and the other person feel comfortable having an open and honest conversation.YesNo

Set the stage for a positive outcome from your opening statement. Ensure the other person knows what you are there to resolve and your hope for this discussion.

“Jim, thank you for agreeing to meet with me today, I understand that you are busy. I appreciate your taking this hour out of your schedule. 

In our last month’s meeting, I noticed a few individuals in the room start speaking up to make a comment or offering their perspective yet they never really had the opportunity to finish expressing their point. Each time it was yourself or Jane that offered the response. What I am here today asking for is your assistance in “How we can ensure everyone in the room has the opportunity to voice their comments? This way, at the end of each meeting, everyone leaves feeling they have contributed and been heard.”

Building an understanding of what you are there to resolve may be necessary if you believe there really isn’t an understanding of what happened to cause this situation.

This may seem like a simple step. What you may experience though is some difficulty coming to a common issue to be resolved.  You may end up with two issues, as you both were triggered by different aspects of the same or different situation.  That’s okay. Deal with both issues. Remember you have two truths in the room, two perspectives, and two sides to the story.

Everyone has triggers or hot buttons; they are derived from our fears, needs, beliefs, concerns, and expectations.

Understanding your triggers, and the triggers of those whom you are in conflict with can go a long way to understanding why people react the way they do.

Step 4 – The Conversation

SEEK TO UNDERSTAND FIRST then seek to be understood.  This factor is one of the most important elements to get right.

Make sure you are actively listening to what they are saying. Open up the conversation by inviting them to speak first and let them tell you their story.

“Jim, how do you find participation levels within our monthly meetings?”

Make sure you note aspects of their comments that you see as important to them. Note aspects that are jointly important to both of you or information that you found new or that you want to explore more. Do not interrupt. If you have something to say and you think you may forget it, write it down.

“Jim, I really appreciate you bringing the awareness of the silence you hear in the room and your ability to start the conversation. I have noticed the same thing.  

This month, I paid attention to how long we have to leave the silence before someone started speaking. I too felt there was a bit of an imbalance as to the team members we heard from and those that may feel they didn’t have the opportunity to speak. Maybe we can brainstorm together to find ways to ensure everyone feels they have had the opportunity to speak and be heard.”

Be okay with the possibility that you may need to apologize. Be ready to forgive. Be open to seeing the situation from a different point of view. Be ready to clarify your assumptions. Be ready to be challenged or be proven wrong.

Remember, you are the skilled one in the conversation. No matter their position, years of experience or the training they may have, it is up to you to do what you can to ensure the conversation is as positive and productive as possible.

Step 5 – Brainstorming for resolution

Now that each of you has had the opportunity to express how you view the situation (you don’t have to agree), you can look at what can be done that will resolve our current situation?

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” ― Dorothy Thompson

Ensure you note any roadblocks you think may impact your ability to be successful in your actions.

“Tony. that sounds like a great idea to try at our next meeting. After an agenda item has been introduced, I agree we could go around the table asking each team member what their thoughts are. At the end of the meeting, we could also leave the minutes open for 24 hours and invite anyone that has more to offer to submit their comments to you to be added. Then when the minutes are sent out they can include all of the concerns, thoughts, needs, agreements and action items from all our team members.”

Step 6 – Writing up the agreement

Now is the time to write and share what you feel needs to be noted between the two of you to ensure that what you agreed to in your meeting is clear and reflects what both of you have come up with to resolve the situation. It is also another opportunity to thank the individual for accepting your invitation and their willingness to work together to resolve the issue.

What stages will a conflict go through if not addressed or if it can not be resolved?

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