The key to handling confrontation productively and successfully is being able to handle the most important factor. Exactly what is that factor? It’s you! Your preparation, demeanor, prioritization and topic specific guidelines will determine your meeting outcome. As you view these conflict resolution meetings, it’s important to remember conflict with a staff member is very different from a management disagreement. The two must not be confused although many of the steps are transferable when working towards resolution.
Leadership conflict in business meetings tend to fall into two primary categories:
1. Real professional differences – Conflict can arise from very real differences in professional opinions. In many cases, these differences are handled appropriately and don’t develop into open conflict. The potential of conflict does change when stakes of the outcome are raised by group ownership or irreversible investment of resources. These types of differences need to be addressed quickly and not left unattended. If not addressed, these situations tend to dissolve relationships until openly discussed.
2. Personality difference and power struggles – Conflict can appear when individuals or groups dislike each another or feel their positions are being threatened. This form of conflict tends to be more about personalities than business decisions.
Staff conflict in the workplace:
1. Pick and choose your battles – What topic is the most important to you AND has substance for the overall project? Be patient and don’t get locked into the concept of “being right” rather than moving the process along with fruitful discussions. Your stress level and doctor will thank you later!
2. Research – Do you know the person you’ll be speaking to about conflict? Do you know of any prior decisions that have formed their current opinions? Are there any associated issues that may sidetrack the discussion or change the root cause?
3. Time, place and audience – Never stage an audience to make an example of someone. Your employees will see through those selfish acts of power and question your motives in the future. Confront individuals privately after you’ve had time to think-thru the discussion in a calm rational way. If you truly want a substantive discussion, then find a time best suited for the other person and request the meeting.
4. Keep the conversation limited to the specific topic – Be certain not to let your discussion drift into other areas that may muddy the waters. You’re much more likely to find positive resolution by sticking to one issue at a time.
5. Rehearse – Make a list of your priorities and the expectations resulting from the discussion. You should also be aware of the time needed to fully close the meeting.
6. Separation of the topic and you – It’s important to understand a verbal attack is not directed at you personally, but rather towards what you’re representing. It’s always easier to take a step back and acknowledge your group’s mistakes that may be involved in the meeting. This isn’t necessarily an easy approach, however your openness about the group’s shortcomings might actually help your audience become more receptive to your ideas.
7. Body language may say as much as your words – Being attentive to your unspoken body language is important to consistently communicating a clear message. Make every effort not to accept anyone’s assumptions about the subject or your beliefs; if you do, you transfer your power and leverage.
8. Redirect any incorrect statements – Rephrase your audience’s statements in such a way to force ownership allowing you to step out of the loop: “If I understand correctly, you’re saying you believe… and you wonder if I share your feelings.” This rephrasing helps maintain control of the discussion’s direction and avoid being manipulated. With this approach, you’ll openly bring to light assumptions and possible absurdities in your audience’s position. You also make the confronter responsible for the content of their question while at the same time demonstrating you’ve taken the question seriously. And finally, you improve your chances of gaining a better root understanding and perhaps discover a productive line of response in the process.
9. Ending and follow-up – Effective counseling or conflict management does not begin the day of the meeting; rather, it starts the day the co-worker/learner is hired. Appropriately setting expectations and reinforcing an open door policy are the best gateways to the fewest “conflict” meetings. Before ending the meeting, ask the employee to define the process/policy. This moment of clarification ties the not and confirms you both understand the issue and how it will be defined. Be certain to close the meeting by thanking the employee for their time.
If you’re uncomfortable with the meeting a Human Resources Department representative should be consulted for guidance. That interaction with HR provides a frame of reference for the specific employee, a review of company policies and an opportunity to further build trust with your co-workers. Your employee relations partner can your biggest asset during these situations… tap into their experiences and confidently schedule that meeting!