Building a positive and productive working relationship is a key to influence. Conflict within a relationship can be handled skillfully and resolved to benefit both sides and maintain a good rapport. In fact, the working relationship itself can be a resource to help resolve the disagreement. Consider the following factors as you plan for conflict resolution.
Consider Need for Neutrality
Particularly if the working relationship is bruised or damaged by the conflict, having a neutral facilitator may help both sides be able to express themselves and work together toward agreement. A skilled professional such as a mediator may be able to assist in creating a safe space to share and move the discussion toward a mutually beneficial solution. This person can set ground rules and ask questions from an outside perspective that may contribute to generating solutions to the issue.
Even if a mediator may not be necessary, a neutral location should be considered. Choose a physical space away from either sides’ day-to-day experience where it’s possible to speak privately. This will relieve any perceived imbalance of power or territory and allow both sides to be on an equal level.
Ensure Agreement is Possible
Take an honest look at the situation and determine with both sides whether a chance for an agreement truly exists. The earlier you can assess the possibility for agreement the more fruitful your efforts will be. Getting both sides to agree that they want to resolve the issues is a small and important step that can be built upon in the resolution process.
Start with Deep Understanding
Working toward agreement starts with understanding and respecting all sides’ interests and perceptions. Draw from your previous knowledge of one another in your working relationship to consider what is important to each side. What is each person truly concerned about? What is their personal experience?
Create a safe space for each side to fully share their side of the story and speak to what is truly important to them in the situation. A demand that appears on the surface is often connected to a deeper concern. Everyone should be heard and allowed to express all of what is underneath the issue. Often this brings up areas of common interest that can be points of agreement to build on for the resolution.
Make the Pie Bigger
In conflict situations, people can get stuck in a zero-sum game mentality as if there is a limited amount of resources to go around – if you get a slice of pie, that’s one less for me. When working toward resolution, have all sides generate options and seek points of agreement along the way. This shows there is plenty of opportunity for all. Generating options can make the pie bigger so everyone can have a satisfying outcome.
Commitment = Resolution
Both sides can be prepared to work on a mutually beneficial agreement by fleshing out each person’s interests and generating options for how to resolve the issue at hand. Resolving the conflict is all about getting a commitment from both sides on what they will agree to do going forward. The commitment to resolving the issue is also a commitment to the working relationship.
Relationship is key to each stage of conflict resolution. The key is to prioritize the relationship and allow both sides to work together to resolve the issue. Navigating the conflict is this way can even strengthen the working relationship going forward.
Danielle Metzinger is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She leads efforts across agencies and sectors to think big about improving government for generations to come. Danielle serves as an Organizational Excellence Specialist in the executive office of the California Department of Transportation. Throughout her public service career, she has worked on high profile projects related to organizational development and succession planning in California state government. She leads NxtGov, a nonprofit professional network for public servants, and Innovative Pathways to Public Service, a collaborative of educators and government officials to bring young people into public sector careers. You can read her posts here.