12 Steps to Conflict ResolutionHow to Get Along with Difficult Staff, Volunteers and Board MembersRon Jensen"In the right key one can say anything. In the wrong key, nothing; the only delicate part is theestablishment of the key."—George Bernard ShawDo you have anyone in your life who drives you nuts? Maybe it is a child, a spouse, a friend,a co-worker or a parent. Well, if you are like most people you do have one or more peoplelike that in your life. I want you to get a picture of that persons face in your mind as we beginthis article because I want you to think about how you apply these principles of conflictresolution to your relationship.These principles have worked wherever Ive taught them in dozens of countries around theworld. So, think about how you can put them to work and see broken relationships becomewhole!The Word of God says, "strive to maintain the unity of faith," "be perfected in unity,""esteem others higher than yourself," "admonish a brother in a spirit of humility," "bereconciled first to your brother," "if youre offended go to your brother and speak to him,""forgive one another," and "speak the truth in love."From these and many more passages we see a strategy and principles for resolving conflict.In this article I want to coach you on 12 steps to resolving conflict. First, let me give you the12 steps in summary form and then Ill unpack them.12 Steps to Resolving Conflict Learn to embrace and resolve conflict. Address your anger appropriately. Seek understanding, not victory. Assume the best. Learn to share your feelings appropriately. Watch your tongue. Ask, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? Speak the truth respectfully. Attack the problem, not the person. Dont use "You" statements; use "I" statements. Deal with specific areas, not generalizations. Seek and grant forgiveness. Deal with conflict personally. Go to that person. Dont reprimand anyone in front of others. Be gentle. People are fragile.Now, that you have an overview of the principles, let me give you a little more practicalapplication of these.1. Learn to embrace and resolve conflict. How was conflict handled in your life growingup? Did your family deal with it in a healthy way or didnt they? Its important to think about
this because most of us tend to respond to conflict the way our families did, or we overreactand go to the other extreme.The tendency is for us to react by "Fight" or "Flight." We can get abusive on the one hand orrun away, deny and hide on the other. Both of these processes are unhealthy and neverresolve conflict. Remember, the goal is to embrace conflict and resolve it.So, what do you do? You commit to resolve conflict routinely. You embrace it the way onefighter embraces another who is beating him to a pulp. You try to get your arms around theconflict, evaluate it, not wasting emotional energy but letting your energy be used for positiveproblem solving.The next 11 principles will tell you how to do this.2. Address your anger appropriately. Learn how to handle anger. First, realize that anger isnot bad. It isnt. In fact, anger is an emotion built within you in order to help you deal withimpending danger the right way.Let me illustrate. You are driving on the freeway and a car pulls right in front of you. Whatdo you do? Well, you may be tempted to do all sorts of juvenile things. I sure get tempted to.But, hopefully, I let the anger Im feeling lead me to step on the brakes, swerve and avert afatal accident. You see, anger is a tool to help you.So, anger isnt bad. A response of flight or fight, however, is NOT the right way to respond.Instead, admit your anger and ask yourself what is causing it. Again, dont waste youremotions by moping or screaming or being resentful. Instead, let all the emotional energy gotoward completing the next 10 steps.3. Seek understanding, not victory. Learn to listen! Thats a killer for most of us. But, youllnever be a pro at resolving conflict unless you let go of trying to always win and focus ontruly understanding. So, keep your mouth shut and ask questions.If you are feeling hurt by someone due to what they may have said or done, dont attack theperson but ask questions to determine what was said and why it was said. Again, dont get inan attack mode.Instead, try to understand the other persons perspective.4. Assume the best. Dont jump to wrong conclusions. Instead, give people the benefit of thedoubt.How many times have you heard someone say something or look at you a certain way in ameeting and you thought, "She doesnt like me." Whats that all about?We so often squelch good relationships at home and at work by assuming the worst. Thisespecially happens when we hear that someone has said something negative about us. Hey,dont overreact. Remember, we all get and give filtered information.So, if you get disparaging reports about you from others, check it out. And, assume the best.You might want to say, "The other day a mutual friend said he heard you say, or someone
else say, some unflattering things about me. I know how messages get confused when theypass through people, so I wanted to check directly with you to see if you do have anyconcerns and/or see any areas in my life I can work on."I know that you may just want to deck the person. But why? First, you may have inaccuratedata. Second, if you received accurate data, you may need to do some changing. Third, at theleast, the person knows that there is accountability for saying things and most likely will bemore thoughtful the next time.5. Learn to share your feelings appropriately. Feelings are often confusing. Frankly, mostmen, myself included, seldom know how they feel. For instance, my wife Mary can saysomething to me that hurts my feelings and I express anger instead of hurt. Many men reactto hurt with anger. Its easier, because anger seems to us to be about you—and hurt is aboutus.It is, frankly, a little too vulnerable for most of us "macho" guys to admit that what you saidhurt us. But, that is the fact. We are feeling unappreciated, disrespected and unloved. And,hey, this is a two-edged sword. Women feel the same way, guys. They feel unloved,unappreciated, undervalued.In fact, I believe that the major problem in marriages is the inappropriate management ofanger, especially in the area of sharing our feelings. It is really not about finances, thebusiness, the kids, the in-laws, sex or other side issues. It is about how we feel—unloved,unappreciated, etc.Heres what we need to do. The next time you feel angry, you need to do the following: Admit that you are angry. Its OK. Anger is just a warning sign. Communicate your anger to the person in this way. Say something like this, "I have a problem. When I heard you say ____________ the other day, I felt hurt, upset, unappreciated (whatever is accurate) and angry. Now, I realize that this is my problem, but Id like to work through with you what you meant, how I can change, and how I can make you aware of the effect your words had on me."Give this a shot. Dont get discouraged if people dont respond well. This will always workbest when the other person has bought into these same 12 Steps as a common approach toresolving conflict. But this will improve things even if they dont, because it is the right thingto do.6. Watch your tongue. Ask, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? Do you know howdangerous the tongue is? It is such a little instrument—like a spark of fire—but it can cause ahuge conflagration. It can do incalculable damage though it is so small. Its much like therudder of a ship—so small but it can turn an entire ship.You probably remember words a parent or others have said to you in anger. Those words justdont go away. They result in you feeling unloved, unappreciated, unvalued. Well, you havethe same power.So, the next time you open your mouth, remember the power of your tongue. Use thesequestions as guidelines for everything you say. Ask:
1. Is it true? Dont say things like "always," "never," or other words that are absolute. Say, "in this instance," or "in my opinion," or "sometimes," etc. 2. Is it kind? Hey, think about it—we should be kind. There is never a reason to be rude, obnoxious, offensive or harmful. It doesnt matter how horrible another person may be. Use the old golden rule here, "Do unto others as youd have them do unto you." Treat others kindly just like you want to be treated. 3. Is it necessary? So often we speak just to speak. Dont do that. Say what is necessary. One wise leader said, "Even a fool seems wise if he keeps his mouth shut." Dont be guilty of verbal pollution. Instead, keep the verbal airways clean by saying only what is necessary.7. Speak the truth respectfully. You should always be truthful! That will keep you awayfrom practicing flight or running away, denying, or repressing conflict.Truth is truth but much of what we think is the truth is really opinion. And each of us thinksour own opinions are the right ones! Do the work to determine if what youre about to say istruth or opinion.But even if it is just your opinion, do express how you feel about a situation. You must betruthful. People deserve to know what we are thinking and feeling.If you dont do this you are bound to be stuck in the same cycle of miscommunication, hurt,frustration and other elements of pain. By getting the truth, or even your perspective of thetruth, on the table you are beginning to address the real issue and can get to its root. Ill giveyou more tips on this throughout this article.While you speak the truth, be respectful. Treat people with dignity. Be kind, generous,gracious, caring in your relationships. This is just the right thing to do. Be gracious towardpeople. This will cause you not to practice flight—or demonstrate offensive, abrasive, bitter,or abusive behavior.8. Attack the problem, not the person. There are few things more harmful than attacking apersons character. We do this often when we try to handle conflict. The key is our language.Dont use "You" statements; use "I" statements.Dont say, "You make me so mad," or "You are such a pain." Instead, use words like, "I havea problem … when I see you do this I feel … " or "it seems to me" or "I think that … ," etc.Remember, when you use "you" statements you give the impression that you are attackingthe person, and in some way you are. Dont back people into a corner. Instead, use "I"statements which give the other person some room to grow and preserve their dignity.9. Deal with specific areas, not generalizations. There are few things worse than makingovergeneralizations. Men, dont ever say to your wife, "You are just like your mother!" Thisis usually not complementary in the first place, and second, it is not totally accurate.Instead, be specific. It is one thing for me to say to you, "You are a liar!" How does that makeyou feel? Probably worthless and defensive, does it not? It is too general and I am attackingyour person.
Instead, I might say, "The other day when we were in this meeting I heard you say ________.This didnt align with my view of the facts. Can you help me understand the discrepancy?"You see, there may be a perfectly good explanation. But, at the very least, I have given you agracious opportunity to address the real issues and clarify the problem without pinning you ina corner.10. Seek and grant forgiveness. These are two of the toughest things to do. It is not easy toforgive or ask forgiveness. Lets take them one at a time.First, forgive. Now, understand this. Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. Trust isconditional and forgiveness is not. You need to forgive freely and unconditionally for threereasons. First, it is the best thing for you. My buddy, Nancy Dornan, often says, "Unforgiveness or bitterness is like taking poison and hoping it will kill the other person." You see, bitterness is like a "root" that holds you down from achieving your own potential. It stops you from flying like an eagle. It poisons you. Second, you should forgive because you free up the other person to seek reconciliation and forgiveness for him or herself. You liberate people to be their best when you forgive. You are an instrument to help others be their best. Third, you should forgive because you are so blessed and forgiven in so many areas of your life. Make an inventory of all the good things in your life that you dont deserve—wealth, health, family, friends, and forgiveness itself. You have so much. Do you really deserve it? My first prayer each morning is, "Thank you, Lord, that you dont give me what I deserve."I mean that prayer very sincerely. I know what I deserve and I have so much I dont deserve.So, pass a little of that grace on to other people.Then, learn to ask for forgiveness. I have to do this routinely because I mess up so much. Icoach people to use the following four statements. Id memorize these and put them to workon a daily basis. Here they are: I was wrong to have ___________. Im sorry I caused you to feel ________. Ill work hard at not doing this again. Will you forgive me?11. Deal with conflict personally. Too often we get frustrated and go behind a persons backand complain or gossip about them. Dont do this. This is cowardly. Be brave. Care enough toconfront. But, do it using all the principles weve talked about in this article.Go to that person. Dont reprimand anyone in front of others."What if that person doesnt respond?" you ask. Then, bring two or more people with you forclarification. Your goal here isnt to beat up on the person but to provide clarity andconfirmation of the issues. You may be wrong yourself. Be humble, share how you feel aboutthe conflict and let the other person share his or her perspective. Let the others with you givetheir perspective.
Whatever you do, dont embarrass people in public. Given them the opportunity to addressand resolve the issue in private first.12. Be gentle. People are fragile. Remember that. Treat people with grace and kindness. Theyare fragile like eggshells. The person with whom you are in conflict may seem like a hard-hearted wretch. But, trust me. They are fragile even if hardened. So, be gentle.Gentleness is the same word for meekness. Someone has said, "Meekness is not weakness."And, it isnt. Meekness or gentleness means "strength under control." So think of a wildstallion whose will has been broken but whose spirit is alive and well. You should bedynamic, powerful and intentional. Hey, your job is to speak the truth. But, you should alsobe gentle, kind and gracious.So, have an alive spirit and a broken will under the control of the Master.I dont have the time to tell you the dozens of stories I have of relationships that have beenreconciled by following these principles—now in dozens of countries around the world. I cantell you that I have heard and read the stories of hundreds of people who have applied theseprinciples and, in tears, relayed the results of restored relationships.Dont hold back. Be a leader and take action. I coached you through the process of clarifyingand resolving conflict. So, now start practicing connecting with those closest to you. And,write me your stories of transformation and reconciliation as you apply these principles.Ron Jenson is the author of 15 books, including Taking the Lead, Glow in the Dark (co-authored with Bill Bright), The Making of a Mentor (coauthored with Ted Engstrom) andAchieving Authentic Success. This book builds out the 10 MAXIMIZERS principles thatserve as the basis for this article. Jenson serves as a life coach to many top leaders throughoutthe world. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TakingTheLead.net.Bell and Harts Eight Causes of ConflictUnderstanding the Causes of Workplace TensionLearn how to prevent, recognize, and manage conflict effectively.
Lets take a closer look at each of the eight causes of workplace conflict, and discuss whatyou can do to avoid and resolve each type.1. Conflicting ResourcesWe all need access to certain resources – whether these are office supplies, help fromcolleagues, or even a meeting room – to do our jobs well. When more than one person orgroup needs access to a particular resource, conflict can occur.If you or your people are in conflict over resources, use techniques like Win-Win Negotiationor the Influence Model to reach a shared agreement.You can also help team members overcome this cause of conflict by making sure that theyhave everything they need to do their jobs well. Teach them how to prioritize their time andresources, as well as how to negotiate with one another to prevent this type of conflict.If people start battling for a resource, sit both parties down to discuss openly why their needsare at odds. An open discussion about the problem can help each party see the othersperspective and become more empathic about their needs.2. Conflicting StylesEveryone works differently, according to his or her individual needs and personality. Forinstance, some people love the thrill of getting things done at the last minute, while othersneed the structure of strict deadlines to perform. However, when working styles clash,conflict can often occur.To prevent and manage this type of conflict in your team, consider peoples working stylesand natural group roles when you build your team.You can also encourage people to take a personality test, such as the Myers-BriggsPersonality Test or Firo-B. This can help them become more accepting of other peoplesstyles of working, and be more flexible as a result.3. Conflicting PerceptionsAll of us see the world through our own lens, and differences in perceptions of events cancause conflict, particularly where one person knows something that the other person doesntknow, but doesnt realize this.If your team members regularly engage in "turf wars" or gossip, you might have a problemwith conflicting perceptions. Additionally, negative performance reviews or customercomplaints can also result from this type of conflict.Make an effort to eliminate this conflict by communicating openly with your team, evenwhen you have to share bad news. The more information you share with your people, the lesslikely it is that they will come up with their own interpretations of events.
Different perceptions are also a common cause of office politics. For instance, if you assign aproject to one person that normally would be someone elses responsibility, you mayunwittingly ignite a power struggle between the two. Learn how to navigate office politics,and coach your team to do the same.4. Conflicting GoalsSometimes we have conflicting goals in our work. For instance, one of our managers mighttell us that speed is most important goal with customers. Another manager might say that in-depth, high-quality service is the top priority. Its sometimes quite difficult to reconcile thetwo!Whenever you set goals for your team members, make sure that those goals dont conflictwith other goals set for that person, or set for other people.And if your own goals are unclear or conflicting, speak with your boss and negotiate goalsthat work for everyone.5. Conflicting PressuresWe often have to depend on our colleagues to get our work done. However, what happenswhen you need a report from your colleague by noon, and hes already preparing a differentreport for someone else by that same deadline?Conflicting pressures are similar to conflicting goals; the only difference is that conflictingpressures usually involve urgent tasks, while conflicting goals typically involve projects withlonger timelines.If you suspect that people are experiencing conflict because of clashing short-term objectives,reschedule tasks and deadlines to relieve the pressure.6. Conflicting RolesSometimes we have to perform a task thats outside our normal role or responsibilities. If thiscauses us to step into someone elses "territory," then conflict and power struggles can occur.The same can happen in reverse - sometimes we may feel that a particular task should becompleted by someone else.Conflicting roles are similar to conflicting perceptions. After all, one team member may viewa task as his or her responsibility or territory. But when someone else comes in to take overthat task, conflict occurs.If you suspect that team members are experiencing conflict over their roles, explain whyyouve assigned tasks or projects to each person. Your explanation could go a long waytoward remedying the pressure.You can also use a Team Charter to crystallize peoples roles and responsibilities, and tofocus people on objectives.
7. Different Personal ValuesImagine that your boss has just asked you to perform a task that conflicts with your ethicalstandards. Do you do as your boss asks, or do you refuse? If you refuse, will you lose yourbosss trust, or even your job?When our work conflicts with our personal values like this, conflict can quickly arise.To avoid this in your team, practice ethical leadership: try not to ask your team to do anythingthat clashes with their values, or with yours.There may be times when youre asked to do things that clash with your personal ethics. Ourarticle on preserving your integrity will help you to make the right choices.8. Unpredictable PoliciesWhen rules and policies change at work and you dont communicate that change clearly toyour team, confusion and conflict can occur.In addition, if you fail to apply workplace policies consistently with members of your team,the disparity in treatment can also become a source of dissension.When rules and policies change, make sure that you communicate exactly what will be donedifferently and, more importantly, why the policy is changing. When people understand whythe rules are there, theyre far more likely to accept the change.Once the rules are in place, strive to enforce them fairly and consistently.Tip:Although Bell and Harts Eight Causes of Conflict provide a useful framework for identifyingcommon causes of conflict in the workplace, they dont explore how to deal with conflict. Somake sure that you know how to resolve conflict effectively, too.Key PointsPsychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart identified eight causes of conflict in the early 2000s.The eight causes are: 1. Conflicting resources. 2. Conflicting styles. 3. Conflicting perceptions. 4. Conflicting goals. 5. Conflicting pressures.
6. Conflicting roles. 7. Different personal values. 8. Unpredictable policies.You can use these to recognize the root cause of conflict between people. In turn, this canhelp you devise effective conflict resolution strategies, and create a workplace thats notdisrupted by tension and disharmony.You can learn 700 similar skills elsewhere on this site. Click here to see our full toolkit. Ifyou like our approach, you can subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for justUS$1.Whenever two individuals opine in different ways, a conflict arises. In a layman‘s languageconflict is nothing but a fight either between two individuals or among group members. Notwo individuals can think alike and there is definitely a difference in their thought process aswell as their understanding. Disagreements among individuals lead to conflicts and fights.Conflict arises whenever individuals have different values, opinions, needs, interestsand are unable to find a middle way.Let us understand conflict in a better wayTim and Joe were working in the same team and were best of friends. One fine day, theywere asked to give their inputs on a particular project assigned to them by their superior.There was a major clash in their understanding of the project and both could not agree to eachother‘s opinions. Tim wanted to execute the project in a particular way which did not go wellwith Joe. The outcome of the difference in their opinions was a conflict between the two andnow both of them just can‘t stand each other.The dissimilarity in the interest, thought process, nature and attitude of Tim and Joe gave riseto a conflict between the two.Conflict is defined as a clash between individuals arising out of a difference in thoughtprocess, attitudes, understanding, interests, requirements and even sometimesperceptions. A conflict results in heated arguments, physical abuses and definitely loss ofpeace and harmony. A conflict can actually change relationships. Friends can become foes asa result of conflict just as in the case of Tim and Joe.A Conflict not only can arise between individuals but also among countries, political partiesand states as well. A small conflict not controlled at the correct time may lead to a large warand rifts among countries leading to major unrest and disharmony.It is a well known fact that neighbours are our biggest assets as they always stand by uswhenever we need them. Let us take the example of India and China or for that matter Indiaand Pakistan. India and Pakistan are twin sisters as there is hardly any difference in theculture, religion, climatic conditions, eating habits of the people staying in both the countries,but still the two countries are always at loggerheads and the reason is actually unknown.Small issues between the two countries have triggered a conflict between them which hasnow become a major concern for both the countries.
Misunderstandings as well as ego clashes also lead to conflicts. Every individual has adifferent way to look at things and react to various situations.Mike wanted to meet Henry at the church. He called up Henry and following was theconversation between them.Mike - ―Henry, I want to meet you tomorrow at 9‖Henry tried Mike‘s number a several times but could not speak to him. Mike waited thewhole day for Henry and finally there was a major fight between them. For Mike 9 meant 9in the morning whereas Henry misunderstood it for 9 in the evening and hence a majorconflict between the two. It is always advisable to be very clear and very specific to avoidmisunderstandings and conflicts. Any feedback or suggestion by an individual might not govery well with other individual leading to severe displeasure. It might hurt the ego of theother person resulting in a fight and major disagreement.Phases of conflictA conflict has five phases. 1. Prelude to conflict - It involves all the factors which possibly arise a conflict among individuals. Lack of coordination, differences in interests, dissimilarity in cultural, religion, educational background all are instrumental in arising a conflict. 2. Triggering Event - No conflict can arise on its own. There has to be an event which triggers the conflict. Jenny and Ali never got along very well with each other. They were from different cultural backgrounds, a very strong factor for possibility of a conflict.Ali was in the mid of a presentation when Jenny stood up and criticized him for the lack of relevant content in his presentation, thus triggering the conflict between them. 3. Initiation Phase - Initiation phase is actually the phase when the conflict has already begun. Heated arguments, abuses, verbal disagreements are all warning alarms which indicate that the fight is already on. 4. Differentiation Phase - It is the phase when the individuals voice out their differences against each other. The reasons for the conflict are raised in the differentiation phase. 5. Resolution Phase - A Conflict leads to nowhere. Individuals must try to compromise to some extent and resolve the conflict soon. The resolution phase explores the various options to resolve the conflict.Conflicts can be of many types like verbal conflict, religious conflict, emotional conflict,social conflict, personal conflict, organizational conflict, community conflict and so on.Conflicts and fighting with each other never lead to a conclusion. If you are not on the sameline as the other individu INTRODUCTION: CONFLICT, CULTURE, AND KNOWLEDGE Language explains…and language obscures. Take the word “we”: it can identifya meaningful group, but it can also submerge important differences in assumed likeness. “Conflict resolution” is one of those phrases denoting a category that differentpeople understand in very different ways. Yet many people, and many textbooks about
conflict resolution, assume a uniform meaning: “A process involving a neutral thirdparty who facilitates not the content but the form of a dialogue so that the parties to adispute can arrive at a settlement of their own making, to which they both/all agree.”What is Conflict Resolution? For the editors of this volume, and for many of the authors who appear here,several parts of this definition are questionable. • Is there such a thing as neutrality, and if so, is it desirable? Can a dialogue in the midst of conflict ever be facilitated without regard to the content? Is settlement always the most desired end to the process, or are there times when changes to the relationships among the people involved are more important? Behind these questions lie a thick bunch of deeper questions, touching on matters of culture, power and knowledge: • Who decides the meaning and definition of conflict resolution and when? How does the meaning of conflict resolution change in different settings – a school playground, for instance, versus a court of law, versus an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing on a matter of discrimination? • What happens when the work is defined by those in power (in this context, typically the authors of textbooks and training manuals or accredited researchers in prestigious universities) in ways that marginalize people with crucial ideas about social change, ideas that are evident only to them precisely because they have been marginalized?
**** It was the afternoon of September 11, 2001. In the Multicultural ConflictResolution class, students and teacher were still in substantial shock at the morning’sattacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They were trying to talk abouttheir feelings, but tempers ran high and the talk kept turning instead to what theAmerican response should be. “We need to understand the reasons behind terrorism,” some students argued.“No, we need to strike back, fast and hard!” proclaimed others. Again and again, theteacher urged the students to return to their reactions rather than what should be done.“How was it for you to learn of the attacks?” Suddenly, one young man, a vociferous advocate of, “We have to retaliate!”,stopped in mid‐sentence. “I just realized something,” he said reflectively. “Today when Iwalked on campus, for the first time in my life I felt like an American.” The class lookedat him quizzically. “Every other time,” he explained, “I knew I was an African‐American,different from almost everyone I saw around me.” The African‐American student’s “we” had shifted in the face of an assault on U.Sterritory. The white students, a majority of the campus population, assumed a “we” thatmeant all members of the university community, while the young man in a minority hada sharply different understanding of the nature of that “we”. Whose “we” takes precedence is determined by relations of power in complexand often subtle ways. In each of these circumstances, people may come to conflictresolution from very different cultural experiences, very different social identities, verydifferent takes on what’s important, what’s true, and what’s legitimate. To discussculture, practice, and knowledge in relation to each other is to talk about politics. Thus, the meaning of conflict resolution changes depending on who is asking thequestions, who is answering them and under what circumstances, and depending onwho is listening as well. Information changes depending on who has the power and whohas been marginalized – and who fits into each of those categories changes, too,depending on contexts and moments in history.As we use the term in this book, conflict resolution is a way of seeking change, social justice,social responsibility, health, freedom, liberation and the elimination of oppression for all. Conflictresolution is a way to explore the solution from inside out and outside in. We understand thatpolitics enter into every conflict resolution experience, but the ways in which that is true are notalways aThough Jane enjoyed working as the sales manager of Wilbey & Sons, working withScott, the financial manager, was a constant struggle for her. At every meeting, Scott wouldtake great care to explain why all her ideas were unworkable. Also, Scott was constantlyasking for sales projections and financial data from her and always wanted it in excruciatingdetail. Supplying these figures was taking up a large amount of her department‘s alreadypacked schedule. Frankly she thought, he was nothing but a dry, negative perfectionist.Scott, on the other hand, thought that Jane was a maverick. She always had to interrupmeetings with her harebrained schemes and whenever he asked her for the data he needed tokeep the company finances in order, she would always stall and make him have to ask heragain several times. Jane, he felt, was nothing but a happy-go-lucky, unrealistic show-off.
It got to the point where neither of them could stand to be in the same room together. Thecompany clearly suffered under this conflict between two of its key employees andsomething clearly needed to be done. Fortunately the CEO had a simple but surprisingsolution.I don‘t know about you, but I hate conflicts at work. Spending my work days mad at a co-worker, trying to avoid that person and subconsciously finding fault with everything they sayor do is not exactly my idea of a good time.I used to be an expert at dodging conflicts on the job and I‘m here to tell you that it justdoesn‘t work! What does work is biting the bullet and doing something about it here andnow. I have seen what looked like huge, insurmountable, serious conflicts go ―poof‖ anddisappear into dust when handled constructively. I have also seen an itty-bitty molehill of aproblem grow into a mountain that threatened to topple an entire company.You can‘t win a conflict at work. Winning a conflict ie. getting the outcome you wantregardless of what the other person wants can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that theunderlying issue has not been solved. It will simply reappear later over some other topic.Much better than winning a conflict at work is resolving it.And the price of inaction is high, because unresolved, long-running conflicts result inantagonism, break-down in communications, inefficient teams, stress and low productivity. Inshort, unresolved conflicts make people terribly unhappy at work.With all of this in mind, here are five essential steps to constructively resolve conflicts atwork. The steps can be applied to any kind of conflict between co-workers with maybe oneexception – read more at the end of the post.1: Realize that conflicts are inevitable at workShow me a workplace without conflict and I‘ll show you a workplace where no one gives adamn. Whenever people are engaged, committed and fired up, conflict and disagreement isbound to happen. This doesn‘t mean you have to revel in conflict or create trouble just for thehell of it, but it does mean that when conflict happens it‘s not the end of the world. Quite thecontrary, it can even be the beginning of an interesting learning process. The very best andmost efficient workplaces are not the ones without conflicts but those who handle conflictsconstructively.Particularly when a workplace is changing and new ideas are being dreamt up andimplemented, conflict is inevitable. There can be no business change without conflict. Thetrick is to make sure that you also have no conflict without change, because that is the trulydangerous thing: Conflicts that go on for years with all parties refusing to budge.The fact that you have a conflict at work does not reflect badly on you – it mostly means thatyou care enough to disagree strongly. That‘s a good thing provided that you do somethingabout the conflict instead of just letting it go on forever.2: Handle conflict sooner rather than later
This is the single most important tip to successfully resolve conflicts: Do it now!It‘s very tempting to wait for a conflict to blow over by itself, but it rarely does –in most cases it only gets worse with time. I refer you to this delightful cartoon byClaire Bretecher for an example.90% of conflicts at work do not come from something that was said, but fromsomething that wasn‘t said! It‘s tempting to try and smooth things over and pretendeverything is normal. Don‘t. That‘s the most common reason why conflicts at work escalate:Nobody does anything. Everyone‘s waiting for the other guy to pull himself together and―just admit he‘s wrong, dammit‖. It may be unpleasant to tackle the issue here and now butbelieve me, it gets even more unpleasant after the conflict has stewed for a good long while.3: Ask!In the early stages of a conflict the most powerful tool to resolve it is simple: Ask! Ifsomebody has done something that made you angry, if you don‘t understand somebody‘sviewpoint, if you don‘t understand their actions – ask!Do it nicely. ―Say, I was wondering why you did ‗X‘ yesterday‖ or ―I‘ve noticed that youoften do ‗Y‘. Why is that?‖ are good examples. ―Why the hell do you always have to ‗Z‘!‖ isless constructive :o)Sometimes there‘s a perfectly good reason why that person does what he does, and a potentialconflict evaporates right there. Also: Never assume that people do what they do to annoy youor spite you. People typically have a good reason to do the things they do, even the things thatreally get on your nerves. Never assume bad faith on anyone else‘s part. Instead: Ask!4: Giraffe languageFor more entrenched conflicts that have been going on for a while, use giraffe language. It‘sthe best tool around for constructively conveying criticism and solving conflict.An example: You and a co-worker often clash at meetings. It‘s gotten to the point where eachof you are just itching to pounce on the slightest mistake the other person makes. You canbarely stand the sight of each other and have begun to avoid each other as much as you can.This has been going on for a while now.Here‘s how you can use giraffe language to adress the conflict. There‘s an invitation and sixsteps to it:InvitationInvite the other person to talk about the situation. An example:“Say John, I’d really like to talk to you. Do you have half an hour some time today? Wecould meet in meeting room B”.A hurried conversation at your desk between emails and phone calls won‘t solve anything.You need an undisturbed location and time to adress the issue. And make no mistake: Givingthis invitation may be the hardest part of the whole process. It can be remarkably hard to takethat first step. Do it anyway!
At the meeting itself, you need a way to structure the conversation constructively. Otherwiseit could easily go like this:The good thing about giraffe language is that the conversation doesn‘t degenerate into mutualaccusations. Without a proper structure the meeting could also go like this:“John, why are you always attacking me at meetings?”“What are you talking about – I don’t do that!”“You do. Yesterday you jumped on me for suggesting that we add en extra programmer to theteam.”“We’ve talked about that a thousand times, we don’t have the budget for more people.”“That was no reason to stomp me and the idea at the meeting.”“Well that’s what you did to me when I suggested that we review the project model.”Etc. etc. etc.Ever had one of those discussions at work? Not much fun and not very productive either!Giraffe language keeps accusations, assumptions and mutual attacks out of the conversationand makes it much more likely to reach a solution.Here‘s how it goes. It‘s important that you prepare the meeting thoroughly and write downnotes to each step so you know what you‘re going to say. After each of the steps (except iiand iii) ask the other person if he agrees with your thinking and if he‘d like to add anything.i) Observation. Identify what you see in neutral, objective terms.“John, I’ve noticed that in our project meetings, we get very critical of each others ideas. Forinstance, the other day you suggested reviewing our project model and I jumped on you forsuggesting it, though it’s actually a necessary step. I have noticed that we’ve ended up doingsomething like this in almost every meeting in the last few months. It also seems to be gettingworse. Would you agree with this description of the situation?”This is where you describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. What isactually happening? When and how is it happening? What is the other person doing and, notleast, what are you doing? You‘re only allowed to cite observable facts and not allowed toassume or guess at what the other person is thinking or doing. You can say ―I‘ve noticed thatyou‘re always criticizing me at our meetings‖ because that‘s a verifiable fact. You can‘t say―I‘ve noticed that you‘ve stopped respecting my ideas‖ because that assumes somethingabout the other person.ii) Apologize. Apologize for your part in the conflict.“John, I want to apologize for attacking you at the meetings. It has a bad effect on the moodof our meetings and I can see that it makes you angry. I apologize.”If you‘re 100%, totally and utterly without fault in the conflict you may skip this step. Thatdoesn‘t happen too often, let me tell you, usually everyone involved has done something tocreate and sustain the conflict. Remember: You‘re not accepting the entire blame, you‘retaking responsibility for your contribution to the situation.iii) Appreciate. Praise the other part in the conflict. Tell them why it’s worth it to you tosolve the conflict.“I know we don’t always see eye to eye and that we have very different personalities but Iwant you to know that I really appreciate your contribution to the project. Without you wewould never have gotten this far in the same time. Also the way you communicate with our
clients and your ability to find out what they really want are second to none and a boost tothe project.”This can be difficult, few people find it easy to praise and appreciate a person they disagreestrongly with, but it‘s a great way to move forward. It also serves as a lithmus test: If youcan‘t think of a single positive thing to say about the other person, you may not be ready toresolve the conflict yourself. In this case see tip 5 (mediation) below.iv) Consequences. What has the conflict led to for you and for the company? Why is it aproblem?“I don’t like this situation we have now. It’s making me anxious before meetings and it’smaking the meetings less productive. I also think some of the other project members arestarting to wonder what it’s all about. Jane asked me the other day why the two of us cannever agree on anything. I think this is actually harming the project. Would you agree?”Outlining the consequences of the conflict shows why it‘s necessary to resolve the conflict. Italso helps participants to look beyond themselves and see the conflict ―from the outside‖.v) Objective. What would be a good outcome.“I would like for us to listen more an appreciate each others ideas more. You have somegreat ideas and even if I don’t agree with an idea, I can still listen and make constructivesuggestions. Does that sound like a good goal?”It‘s essential to set a goal so both parties know the outcome they‘re aiming for. That makesreaching the outcome a lot more likely :o)vi) Request. Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away.“I suggest that we introduce a new rule: At meetings when one of us suggest something andthe other person disagrees, we start by saying what’s good about the idea and then say how itcould be better. Also if we start to attack each other as we have before, I suggest we bothexcuse ourselves from the meeting and talk about it in private instead of in front of the entireteam. Also, what do you say we have a short talk after our next project meeting to evaluatehow it went. How does that sound?”The standard version of giraffe language has four steps and is formulated slightly differently.What you see here is an adaptation of traditional giraffe language to the business world that ismore suited to conflicts at work.Why is it called giraffe language? Because the giraffe has the biggest heart of any animal ondry land (it needs to, to pump blood all the way up to its brain). The great thing about giraffelanguage is that: It gives structure to a difficult conversation It minimizes assumptions and accusations It focuses on the real problems not just the symptoms It results in a plan of action – not just vague assuarances to do better5: Get mediation
George, the CEO of Wilbey & Sons, wanted Jane and Scott, his sales and financial managers,to work well together, but he also knew that something new was need to break the icebetween them. He invited them to a meeting in his office and as they sat there, next to eachother across his desk, the resentment between them was apparent – you could sense how theywere each ready to spring into action and defend themselves.His opening took them both by surprise, though. ―Jane, would you please tell me what youadmire about Scott.‖ This was not what they had expected, and Jane needed a moment to gether mind around that particular question.―Well… he… it‘s… I have to say that his reports are always excellent and that his departmentruns like clockwork. Also he handled that situation with the bank last month quickly andwithout a hitch‖.The CEO‘s next question was ―And Scott, what do you appreciate about Jane?‖ Having heardthe first question, Scott was caught less by surprise and smoothly replied ―Sales are up 17%this quarter because of her last campaign and it looks like the trend will continue.And I mustsay that the customers I talk to all like the new pricing structure she introduced.‖From that moment on the mood in the room had shifted, and the three of them could have areal conversation about Scott and Jane‘s differences and how to resolve them. Though theynever became friends, they were able to work effectively together and appreciate each other‘sstrengths.Some conflicts are so entrenched that they can not be solved by the participants alone;outside help is needed in the form of conflict mediation. Mediation involves finding a thirdparty trusted by the people involved in the conflict, and then trusting that person to help finda solution. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, a business coach, a co-worker, etc.You can still speed up the mediation process by preparing for it by using the giraffe languagesteps above.What if all of this doesn’t work?There is no guarantee that the method described here will resolve your conflict at work. Itmay or it may not. But even if it doesn‘t work you have the satisfaction of knowing thatyou’ve tried. You have risen above the conflict for a while and tried to address it positivelyand constructively. No one can ask more of you.One kind of conflict at work is particularly tricky, namely a conflict with your manager. Witha good manager who responds constructively to criticism, this is rarely a problem, but aconflict with a bad or insecure manager can seriously impact your working situation andneeds special handling. There‘s a post coming next week about working with bad managers.If you like this post there‘s a good chance you‘ll also enjoy these:ddressed or expressly stated.