Workplace conflicts are inevitable. When two or more people are involved there is always room for miscommunication. Differences in perspective, understanding, temperament, and a host of other factors can enter into the situation. As a manager what are appropriate courses of action? This article will explore this question and offer you several ideas for consideration from a practical perspective.
Why involve yourself?
If there is a conflict in your team it will not simply go away. Other team members feel this too and do not appreciate team members in conflict with each other. This conflict will continue to simmer even if it is not overt on the surface. Knowing of this
conflict will negatively impact team morale, customer service, and the bottom line.
Realizing that action is required this is the first step towards trying to define the problem.
Early intervention allows for appropriate action before the situation further deteriorates. Initiating the process gives the parties a chance to be heard. Past actions can be explored in a safe environment. This may allow for the source of the conflict to be addressed. Mediation allows the parties to be responsible for their own outcome. You have the opportunity to
demonstrate that you and your organization care and want to foster good working relationships.
Should you talk to the parties separately or together?
This is a very good question.
There are two schools of thought on this.
There are those that believe you should not meet separately with each employee. This thought process believes that each party will attempt to put themselves in the best light and the other party in the worst light so that you will find them right. This is likely true. However, another school of thought is for you to do just the opposite. This school of thought suggests you should meet with each party separately first. This allows the employee the chance to present their case and be heard by you. Many people simply need to be heard.
If you choose to meet with each party separately or together listening is key. That is remain calm, remain professional, be there to understand.
Check your assumptions. Suspend judgement. Be curious. Be empathetic. Ask open ended questions.
Check in by summarizing and paraphrasing what you are hearing. In some instances, after meeting with each party separately, this approach may cause one or both of the parties to meet with each other to resolve the issue by themselves.
Every situation is different
You know your employees. Use your own judgment.
You decide what may or may not work in this case.
You know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. If one party is going to dominate the discussion, then having the parties speak to each other without you there as a neutral party is not a good idea.
Whether you have spoken with them separately or not if the conflict still exists, you should bring the parties together with you as a mediator.
Explore the facts, issues, feelings, and interests of the parties
Mediation is a learned skill. You can take courses in mediation. This is highly recommended. After a full week course on the subject over 20 years ago, I offer this as an overview of the process that has worked for me. You need to allow each of the parties to share their own perspective of the following four questions before you can work towards a resolution.
- What are the facts?
- What are the issues?
- What are the feelings behind each issue?
- What are the interests going forward?
The acronym I recommend for you is FIFI for facts, issues, feelings, and interests.
What should you do?
1 Establish ground rules
Work with the parties to establish ground rules. Depending on whether you meet with each separately first or not this may be discussed ahead of time or at your joint session. In true mediation, the discussion should be confidential so that parties can frankly speak their minds. In a management employee situation, this may or may not be the case. Check with Human Resources.
2 Find a safe, quiet, neutral space
This may be your office, a conference room, or in a virtual setting. If this is in a virtual session, ensure no recording devices, no one else is in the room, no one else is able to hear the conversation and consider other considerations. Keep in mind that a virtual zoom or similar platform will provide the words, tone, and a visual perspective of the parties involved. However, not being able to see the full body language in relation to each other is still a partial shortcoming compared to a face to face mediation.
3 Explore the issues together
Work collectively to actively listen and explore the issues together. Give the parties time to speak. Apply the commentary above associated with listening actively. Apply the FIFI model. By working to ensure a professional, positive interaction, you can set the stage for each party to become more open to a broader perspective of the situation.
4 Promote compromise and negotiation
Encourage exploring underlying assumptions. Work for compromise between the parties. Help the parties see things from a wider perspective than simply the issues at hand. Consider the impacts on peers, subordinates, support staff, vendors, customers, other supervisors, and additional stakeholders. What is in it for each of them? Keep in mind short term versus long term. Building better relationships. Performing at a higher level.
5 Consider a written agreement
If needed, consider a written agreement. Often for smaller issues this is not needed. In some cases, this may be something the parties want written to make sure of the agreement for enforcement going forward. A written agreement should be clear, concise, and something that both parties can accept. It should be easily understood. Consider the SMART model to make sure it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time -bound.
Closure is particularly important.
Thank the parties for coming to a conclusion and working together.
Talk about the next steps going forward. What needs to be done to carry out the agreement? How will you know that it is working? What happens if it is not working?
Let them know that you support them
and you want to keep the parties working together and collaborating positively in the future.
Finally, check in with them and see how they are doing and how this is working. Let them know you care and that you want to see this continued success.
This is simply an overview to provide you with some constructive ideas. Consider reaching out to a mentor. Discuss this with a peer. Do additional research online. Conflict resolution in the workplace has been an issue for a long time. It is a learned skill. This article provides you some ideas that will hopefully help you going forward. Good luck. I welcome your ideas and concerns. Let me know what you think. I welcome your ideas too.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a mediator, professional speaker, and an author. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, CVP, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]