Five Steps for Mediating and Managing Conflict Between Co-workers
By Dan Rose
There is nothing quite so nerve-wracking as managing two employees who are at each other’s throats over a problem at work. However, with a handful of communication, conflict resolution and management techniques in hand, you should be able to resolve 95 percent of the conflicts that happen with a minimum of stress and worry. Best of all, these tips work across the organization, up or down the corporate ladder, at the executive level, with middle and upper management, and on employee teams. Even better, a certain level of conflict can be beneficial to individuals, departments, and even organizations as long as it is resolved. It’s when conflict is unseen or ignored that it can take root and grow into something that cannot be resolved easily.
Here are five steps for managing conflict that you can start using today:
- First, learn to manage yourself
As a manager or supervisor, you people will look to you first when assessing the situation, so your attitude is the key to resolving issues. It’s like that old saying, “If you think it will go poorly and is unsolvable, you’re right.” However, if you treat conflict as a chance for learning and growth, things will go easier. Obviously, your emotional intelligence is the key to doing this, so if needed, get training on raising your EQ.
- Gain commitment to change from your employees
Are the parties involved willing to change, or are they, unfortunately, 120 percent sure that everything would be fine if the other person would just see it their way? If they’re not willing to engage in the process of conflict resolution, it will be more difficult. Your first job will be to help them find their motivation for making a change or compromising.
- Meet individually first
Don’t get all parties involved together right off the bat to hear about the problem. This is especially true if one or both parties are firmly entrenched in their opinion. Meet with each individual separately, and don’t be rushed into trying to resolve it in just one meeting. There may be fact-finding involved, or you may have to ask a third party for their opinions about what is happening, such as another manager or staff member from another department. In this case, I like to use the phrase, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
- Train yourself and your employees about communication and conflict resolution skills
We’re not born with highly developed communication skills and our early conflict resolution skills consist of crying or calling the kid who took our place in the sandbox a “doody head.” Hopefully, time and maturity helped you and your staff get out of the doody head phase, but as an adult, there is absolutely nothing wrong with continually sharpening your skills.
As a manager, being able to talk through any situation with someone or handle conflict is a must-have skill for success. Great managers make sure their employees receive the same gift through training. What will happen if you train your people this way?
– Readiness to see and acknowledge the other person’s point of view
– Capacity to manage and direct emotional energy purposefully
– Ability to listen for understanding
– Desire to transform an opponent into a partner for problem-solving
- Finally, bring all parties together to talk it out
When you bring them together in one or more joint meetings, begin by building rapport, including small talk, common interests, goals and work habits.
As you discuss areas of conflict, ask the parties to guess and acknowledge what they imagine is the other’s point of view. Ask questions to stimulate further conversation about values, wisdom gained from this process, and what a sustainable resolution might look like.
In today’s workplace where time is so important and none of us have enough of it, you may wonder why this “to-do” should rise to the top of your priority list, and how you’ll find the time. Ask yourself:
- Is conflict among co-workers costing you time and energy?
- Do you find yourself waking up at night wondering what to do?
- Is the tension affecting others?
- Does the conflict limit the team’s ability to accomplish goals?
It always takes more time and causes more stress to not resolve conflict quickly.
Addressing the problem effectively saves you, your department and your organization time
Learning to mediate and resolve organizational conflict will save you and your team time, aggravation and money, and it lets you focus on the job at hand, which is what you do best.
When two conflicting employees come to new understandings, they will learn more about themselves and each other, gain new awareness, remove barriers and change for the better. As a manager, it could be a nice vantage point to watch your hard work pay off.
As you practice the skills, attitudes and behaviors you want for yourself and your staff, this important aspect of your job will become easier and more satisfying. In the process, you’ll increase your own leadership presence and power to manage whatever comes next.
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