There are a number of ways to effectively manage conflict. The approach someone recently used with me (“There are issues; you’re the problem“) is not amongst any of them.
Here’s one conflict resolution approach that in my experience works 90+% of the time.
As a step back, it’s helpful to remember that much, perhaps most, conflict stems from people having different perceptions about what has happened or is happening. Carole Townsley‘s work, based in part on research that’s considered a classic in the area of multicultural and team conflict resolution by G.H. Varney’s (Building productive teams: An action guide and resource book. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, Inc.) suggests that a starting point is to seek and share those perceptions. Frequently, that step alone results in the “aha” moment that surfaces understanding that leads to resolution, rather than dogma that leads to parking somebody in the long-term dog house.
Doug Walker, who I worked with when I was on the faculty and staff at the University of Southern California, had a simple and elegant way to handle conflict that is outlined below.
The “trick” if there is one, is to describe behaviors (think facts) when facts are requested; avoid assuming intent unless you know that it’s a fact. Channel Jack Webb from Dragnet (“Just the facts, ma’am”) if you find the facts part to be the hardest. In this 11 step process, you can stop and sidestep further steps at any time if it’s clear that the conflict has been resolved.
- What’s the situation as you see it; what are the behaviors that you see happening.
- Here’s what I see as the situation; here are the behaviors that I see happening.
- How does this situation affect you or make you feel?
- Here’s how this situation affects me or makes me feel.
- What would be a different way of doing things that would work better for you?
- Here’s what would be a different way of doing things that would work better for me.
- Map areas of potential agreement?
- Which parts of this change can work for you. Here’s what can work for me.
- Can you do that? I can do the following.
- Are you committed to making that change? I’m committed to making those changes.
- Summarize any action steps. As needed / appropriate, set up a check-in date.
Most of the time resolution gets accelerated and reached once you’ve surfaced the differences in perceptions. In this example’s case, the approach might have been different had the method surfaced that I was doing what I had been asked to do, not simply something I had dreamed up.
While perceptions in many ways are reality, in resolving conflict getting the facts straight first is a surefire way to get conflict resolved better, quicker, and easier than simply shooting from the lip.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.