One day last week, there was an uproar at my house.
My kids were playing, (more like fighting), together.
A conflict had occurred, and it turned into a classic, “he said, she said” dispute.
These happen when conflicting parties express opposing accounts of an event or situation. When you don’t witness them directly, they are challenging to mediate. Often there is no way of reaching a definite conclusion about what happened. Successfully negotiating these types of conflicts is a vital leadership skill, and there are three ways that you can do that.
- Ground Yourself
- Concentrate on Each Individual’s Behavior
- Seek Reconciliation
I understand that at work, you’re not dealing with children (most of the time), but some of the principles that I used in my conversation with my kids may help resolve similar types of conflict.
When conflict occurs, you must remain calm.
People follow your example. Your wrath will not help you solve the situation or bring the combatants together. If you can keep your cool, it will help others temper their anger and be more open to resolving the situation.
Remind yourself that everyone (including you) is flawed.
You and those you lead, have great potential to do good things, and hopefully, you strive to do good. Unfortunately, perspectives get skewed; behavior is imperfect. If you begin your resolution efforts understanding that we all have issues, it will help you patiently work through conflicts.
Finally, before going into the conflict, remind yourself of the values of your company. The best companies have clearly articulated their values. They use them as guidelines for behavior, and as an aid in resolving disagreements.
After you’ve grounded yourself, it’s time to explore how each person in the dispute behaved.
Concentrate on Each Individual’s Behavior
There wasn’t any blood, but it was a pretty good scrap.
Four of my five kids were involved. Blows had been exchanged, tears shed. There were multiple points of view, and each was competing for justice, vindication, or at least a sympathetic ear. I knew I had no shot at figuring out what happened, and I had to make sure I didn’t bias myself based on which of the “combatants” was most offended and screaming the loudest.
Take a values-based approach.
As a family, we try to practice “treat others the way you want to be treated.” I asked each child if he or she had done that. I didn’t allow them to talk about what the other person had done, but only to focus on their behavior. It took a bit of coaxing, but eventually, it became apparent that all parties in the dispute had failed in some way to live up to our values. Each of the kids admitted that they could have behaved better. As each one owned their share of the blame, I could feel the anger in the room dissipate.
Here are your takeaways from this section:
- Avoid showing favor to the “most offended” person (or the individual you like most)
- Focus on the behavior of each party (not “he said/she said”)
- Encourage people to verbalize how they could have behaved better
If you stay grounded and use the values-based approach I’ve described, your far more likely to be able to get to the third and most important part of resolving the conflict.
The road to getting right
I looked around the room at my kids, “Hey, listen, guys, we’re on the same team, right?” They nodded their heads. As in families, so in good companies: we get on each other’s nerves once in a while, say things we shouldn’t, act like jerks, but we are still on the same team.
I spoke to my 11-year old daughter, “Can you apologize to your brother for what you said?” She turned to her younger brother and said, “sorry.”
My son, eyes cast down, returned the apology.
“Hey buddy, can you look her in the eye?”
“How about a fist bump?”
(It wasn’t quite hugging time yet).
Taking my time, I spoke to each child, and they all managed an apology with eye and physical contact.
It doesn’t always go this way in our house, but most of the time, that’s my fault. If I haven’t grounded myself and I come in angry or impatient, the conflict often remains unresolved.
The takeaways for reconciliation are:
- Specific apology
- Eye contact
- Physical contact of some kind (handshake, fist bump, hug [if appropriate])
Following the exchange of apologies, I made it clear that I considered the matter closed and that we would not be bringing it up again. We were free to go on with our day, confident in the resolution we had reached.
How can you use this process of conflict resolution in your organization?
As I mentioned at the beginning, you won’t treat your employees like a parent does children, but think through the principles I’ve described and apply them as appropriate:
- Ground yourself,
- concentrate on each individual’s behavior,
- seek reconciliation.
For more insights into how great leaders manage relationships check out these Construction Genius episodes:
How to Have Difficult Conversations
How to Develop Young Construction Leaders for Success
How to Hold People Accountable