Resolving Conflict: Six Simple Steps to Keeping the Peace

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One of the most challenging roles of an effective manager is that of “peacekeeper”. Resolving conflicts in the workplace takes negotiation skills, patience, and a healthy dose of emotional intelligence.

Recently, I interviewed Susan Steinbrecher, an author, executive coach and speaker who is CEO of Steinbrecher and Associates, a management-consulting firm, to gain further insight into the tumultuous world of conflict resolution.

A licensed mediator, Steinbrecher recommends a conflict resolution model that involves six basic steps and three golden rules.

“In any dialogue, there are two fundamental needs that must be met – the ego need and the practical need”, shares Steinbrecher. The ego needs are: to be listened to, valued, appreciated, empathized with, involved, and empowered. The practical need refers to the obvious: the reason for having the discussion that focuses on the conflict that needs to be solved.

Three Golden Rules of Engagement

To address both needs, employ the three golden rules of engagement:

  1. listen and respond with empathy;
  2. be involved; ask for the other person’s opinions, ideas and thoughts; and
  3. maintain and affirm self-esteem.

Remember, 55 percent of a message from sender to receiver is done so via body language. Thirty-eight percent is conveyed by tone of voice and only seven percent by word choice. The body, soul and heart cannot lie – unless you are a diagnosed sociopath! So keep these things in mind when responding.

Here, Steinbrecher uses the example of the employer or manager, and employee. The most important thing to keep in mind is that if the employees don’t feel that they were heard or that they have achieved a “win” out of the discussion then they will not be motivated or resolve to change.

“It comes down to compliance versus commitment,” adds Steinbrecher. “Without question, the person involved in the discussion or conflict resolution will be far more committed to the outcome if they feel empowered by it”. As you go through the six-step process, look for ways to weave in the golden rules: listening and responding with empathy, maintaining or affirming self-esteem and involving the person.

Six Steps To Conflict Resolution

  1. Discuss the situation in a respectful manner. Example: “John, I noticed you’ve been late a few times this week, which seems out of character for you – you’re always so reliable!” Don’t say, “You are always late.” This just gets the person’s back up.
  2. Be specific. If you say, “I noticed that on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday you were 30 minutes late,” the person realizes you are aware of the situation and that they have to address the issue. Their explanation is a perfect opportunity for you to listen and respond with empathy. Remember: you do not necessarily have to agree with someone to empathize with them. You are simply attempting to put yourself in that person’s shoes – if only for a moment – not condemning or condoning the behaviour.
  3. Discuss how a conflict (or problem) impacts you, the work group, or the project. “John, I am not sure you are aware of the full impact of the conflict between you and Steve. The other employees are witnessing this, and it is making them uncomfortable…What do you feel is going on?” Remember, you are asking, not telling.
  4.  Ask for the specific cause of the conflict. “John, from your perspective, what is happening here? You get along well with most everyone here so what is causing the conflict?” Remember to empathize again after their response, rather than say, “Yes, but you’ve got to get along.” The word “but” negates everything positive you just said. If you have to fall on a conjunction, pick “and”. “Yes, I can imagine the challenge this presents – and we need to come up with a solution. What ideas might you have?”
  5.  Ask for the solution. For instance, “What do you think you need to do to help solve this situation? What is your next step?” This brings in accountability.
  6.  Agree on the action to be taken. This step is often missed and it’s the most important one. Think of it as a recap. “So John, what I am hearing you say is that you are going to talk to Steve (discuss details). By when were you thinking of doing that?” The last step is to close on a positive note and ask them to get back to you on the outcome.

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