June 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm #182520
Whether it’s a fight over resources, differences in opinion on strategy, a perceived slight in a meeting, or the “stolen” yogurt in the refrigerator.
But how do you resolve them?
What have been your most successful tactics to resolving workplace conflict?
July 14, 2014 at 7:00 pm #182550
No answers so far show this is a tough one 🙂
No magic bullet on my end either. But I think key is to address the problem directly vs dancing around it
July 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm #182548
Fine, if I have to resolve this, I’ll resolve it. 🙂 In my experience, conflicts most often arise because the parties in question differ in the strategies or sub-priorities pursued in achieving an overarching common objective. For me, the key to resolving them is to focus as much as is possible ON that overarching objective, which is generally something parties can agree on. If that overarching objective is not readily apparent to the disputing parties, or if they are too obsessed/entrenched to even think about it, then the person attempting to resolve the dispute has to try and identify a higher-order objective for them; anything that can elicit a “Well…yeah…I suppose….” response.
Twenty-some years ago, I was teaching at a small ostensibly (but not really) Catholic university. My department was rather small (9 faculty, including myself), so divisions within the department were kryptonite. One faculty member was supervising a student thesis that revolved around research on condom use. Another felt strongly that it was highly inappropriate for the university to be engaged in such, and made vigorous objections on the basis of dubious research ethics arguments. The first faculty member was a bit of a provocateur/rascal, and enjoyed pushing the other guy’s buttons, and the meeting came very close to fisticuffs; no exaggeration. I earned my keep that day by suggesting that we forward the student’s research proposal on to the national professional body, for an ethical review, and that we would abide by their ruling. That way, it would be decided by an arbitrary 3rd party with no vested interest in the outcome, and conform to best practices within the discipline. To be quite honest, I suspected it would go in the first guy’s favour, but the overarching objective was that we not deviate from ethical norms. It worked. They settled down, sat back into their chairs, and the meeting moved on, a little awkwardly, but it moved on and the matter was resolved.
July 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm #182546
I do like the idea of having a 3rd party resolve the issue. Ok, you answered the discussion question, but in so doing, left the story without an ending. 🙂
July 16, 2014 at 2:43 am #182544
The professional body ruled that the proposal met ethics guidelines, and the student went ahead with her research project. I don’t think the two faculty members necessarily hugged and made up, but the bone of contention was put to rest, and the one prof had to begrudgingly accept that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the project, even though it made him uncomfortable. More importantly, for me, was that what threatened to become a departmental meeting so antagonistic that some bridges would get seriously burned, simmered down, and folks were able to carry on.
July 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm #182542
Resolving conflict between subordinates is often the most difficult of leadership tasks. Not uncommonly, the leader must set aside their touchy feely “I want everyone to love me” persona and actually lead. They must insist their subordinates either cooperate for the good of the organization or fire at least one of them. Even Jack Welch, who made a passion of rewarding high performing employees, was adamant that disruptive behavior generating workplace conflict could not be tolerated, from anyone. He could and did end the careers of several highly successful individuals who had come to believe their outstanding performance entitled them to special consideration in workplace conflict situations.
This is obviously much more difficult in a government situation. Nevertheless, government leaders need to let everyone know that workplace conflicts need to be resolved amicably, quickly and decisively before they are raised to the executive level. If the leader must step in to resolve the conflict, they should assess the situation, determine a course of action beneficial to the organization, articulate their decision clearly and most importantly of all clarify it is final. The conflict is now resolved and further discussion will not be considered. Subordinates who cannot or will not accept the decision should be referred to the appropriate grievance procedures but unless/until their complaint is upheld by a higher authority, the executive should stand by their conflict resolution decision.
July 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm #182540
Thank you. Interesting that the one prof. had to come to terms with the idea that just because something made him uncomfortable, it wasn’t necessarily unethical.
July 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm #182538
I have learned when I take ownership of what I did, it will, 99 percent of the time, cool things off. I was talking with the an auditee and she misunderstood what I said and her tone had become condescending. Instead of focusing on her change of tone, I explained the way I was sending the message was not they way she was receiving it and I wanted to make sure she was clear. And I asked what she needed for me to do going further. After that, we were able to work things out with professional tones.
As a team leader, I am able to sit the parties involved down and hear both sides. I require both parties to take ownership in their part and identify a plan for moving forward.
July 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm #182536
I so heartily agree. I have recently adopted this method of resolving conflict and have found that in almost every case, once I voice the possibility that I may be at fault for a miscommunication, the other party calms down and will also accept part of the ‘blame’. I’ve found this to be very effective in not only resolving a conflict, but maintaining a good relationship with my co-workers. Humililty is the key.
July 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm #182534
I agree. Many people are always looking to “take things the wrong way” and be confrontational. Catching their tone or facial expression quickly, I can stop and correct the miscommunication, taking the “blame” as I didn’t explain it well. A small price for harmony.
July 18, 2014 at 12:03 am #182532
* * * Always give people their dignity * * *
Hobbs and Susan note that “taking ownership” of any infraction is very helpful in defusing and disarming confrontations. And one of the things thattaking ownership does is leave the other party with their dignity intact, because it as much as declares that “You’re not the bad guy here”.
That outcome can be achieved by taking ownership of any infraction, but it can be achieved in other ways when there is no single party to blame, or even when the other party is really more in the wrong but drawing that to their attention will have negative ripple effects down the line.
The question to ask yourself is “How do these two parties (or yourself and some other party) get to walk away with their head still held high?”.
July 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm #182530
Mark Hammer, to answer your question of “How do these two parties (or yourself and some other party) get to walk away with their head still held high?”, I think it is pretty simple. Knowing that you put the relationship before yourself should be a reason to hold your head high. When I come to work I come to do a job and I can’t do so without the work relationship. So if I need to take ownership to do my job well than that is what I am willing to do. Accountability is a one of the keys to success.
July 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm #182528
I asked the question in a rhetorical fashion, as a sort of generic self-screen, or first step when sorting things out between other parties, rather than seeking any particular answer, but to reply to your post: Yep.
August 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm #182526
Belinda H. WillisParticipant
Start with yourself:
1. Take a breath.
2. Keep the big picture in mind.
3. Ask: “What is best for the team/organization?”
4. What is already working?
5. What can I do differently to support the effort?
This is just a starting point but I find it gives me clarity (as a leader or as a team member) in sorting out the issues and moving on from there.
August 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm #182524
One of the best books I ever read on resolving conflicts was Crucial Conversations. (http://www.vitalsmarts.com) The biggest lesson I took from that book (among so many) is to always keep in mind during a conflict, “What do I REALLY want?” In other words, do I just want to be right or speak my mind or get revenge or put someone in their place or do I want to resolve this because I want what’s best for the whole team, department and organization? Keeping the latter perspective in mind helps to keep you humble, focused, and steering the conversation toward a common goal – hopefully a peaceful, respectful & thriving workplace. There are so many great, practical tools for resolving confilct in this book that I highly recommend it.
August 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm #182522
Diana Christensen HawksParticipant
Reframe conflict as opportunities – they are always opportunities for more information, for looking at unmet needs, etc.
Also check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication website at http://www.cnvc.org/ – conflicts are about unmet needs of those involved.
A great mentor gave me this suggestion years ago that I’ve found useful in resolving conflicts between individuals. Put the conflict itself on the table in front of those involved. This separates it from those individuals and allows them to look at it more objectively. And it requires you to identify what the actual conflict is in the first place.
And finally, look at motives. What is it that the individuals involved want to happen? What is their motive for the conflict? Sometimes we aren’t fully aware of what our real motives are. And by identifying what our motive is, we can then see whether our methods will actually get us what we are seeking.
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