Conflict happens in all areas of our lives. Conflict occurs whenever there are people with different expectations. Just about every workplace conflict stems from two common starting points: Poor communication and the inability to control one’s emotions. As leaders, you need to embrace that conflict will occur.
I knew someone who reminded me of the Ostrich when conflict or uncomfortable situations occur, they avoid them and stick their head in the sand. This is not the best way to problem-solving. In most cases, the conflict will escalate. Developing effective conflict resolution skills are essential to building a sustainable business. Unresolved conflict will lead to loss of productivity, stifle creativity and cause high employee turnover rate. Conflict can be avoided if steps are taken early in a discussion to diffuse anger and facilitate communication.
- Stay Calm
Thomas Jefferson said: “Nothing gives one so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstance.” Most people stop listening to understand when we get angry. Remaining calm helps us to look at the big picture. Avoid, yelling, swearing and stooping to their level. Always be professional.
- Listen to Understand
When most of us get into a dispute, with a family, friend or co-worker we stop listening. Our minds are too busy formulating an argument back to prove a point. The only way to settle things is to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. This requires active listening. Active listening means to give the other person the physical and verbal signs that you are with them and trying to understand what they are saying. Simple things like nodding, eye contact and encouraging them to “go on”. Ask questions to clarify and understand.
- Be direct (don’t let it fester)
Be direct, but be tactful. Help people understand your perspective without making them defensive. Apologize for the error and try to avoid stating issues of difference as facts. For example, rather than insisting that something arrived on schedule, it is better to say “my information shows the item arrived on schedule, I will take a closer look in this.” By allowing, the possibility of doubt and ensuring you will look into the problem it immediately diffuses the situation. I am huge on owning a mistake, especially with customers when conflict is handled correctly and in a timely manner, it can create loyalty and lead to referrals.
When there is a conflict with co-workers by addressing the issue directly and not letting it fester can lead to stronger collaborations within teams. Remember in previous blogs I referenced Ed Catmull from Pixar and how he discussed that having a culture where people can be candid with one other, disagree but still be respectful can lead to wonderful creativity that helps drive the business forward.
- Attack the Problem, Not the Person.
Your points will be heard more clearly if you can depersonalize your comments and point only at the issue. Avoid the blame game. Focus on problem-solving rather than pointing fingers. Focus on what you and the others person(s) can do to solve the problem and make it better. Have you ever wondered why when you call a company for service or almost anything that the first thing the customer service representative says is that the conversation may be recorded? This is to protect all parties, document everything and remain unbiased. Current CRM systems make this easy to track and record all communication with customers.
Remove the word “you” from the conversation. I fully acknowledge that I am just as human as the rest, and thus will make mistakes. When addressing a problem, do not say “if you would have done this…” It will be received better when leaders can sit down and calmly discuss the problem instead of casting blame. This will take work. Part of our nature as humans is to defend ourselves, be sure to stop, pause and think before speaking.
- Celebrate Agreement!
Be kind to one another. Negotiation can be a hard process and be sure to thank the other person(s) for working together towards the solution.
Good conflict resolution results in lower absenteeism, higher employee retention, increased productivity and lower stress level for everyone.
Cheryl Viola, Executive Director
Catmull, Ed: “Creativity, Inc” 2014