I recently came across an article that gave some pointers on how to handle conflict with team members. It is something that I recently came across at work so I investigated further to see what else I could have done. They had some valid points and a different way to approach it, which I thought would be valuable to share.
The basis of the approach is to go into the conversation to listen and learn. You take the approach of trying to understand and learn as much as you can about the situation.
If you are ever in the situation where you are leading a team and you come across some sort of conflict in the team, you can use the following guidelines to help resolve the issues.
The first thing that you want to do is to listen to each person's story individually. This allows them to be heard. Your job here is to listen to what they are saying, as if it was the first time you were hearing it, without any judgement. You also want to frame the discussion, by asking "How important is it to work with X?", to which people typically respond like "Very important", you can even carry on and ask them "How likely do you think the conflict is to be resolved?" and in most situations, the response will be "No chance!"
This helps set the tone, as when people say that that it is important to get along, they acknowledge it for themselves. Most often they will have extraordinarily little faith that the problem can be fixed which is often the case when issues have been going on for a long time, which is why they think that it cannot be fixed. It should also be part of the leader's job to help rectify the situation to try to resolve the issue.
As the conversation progresses you can also use some of the following questions, which can help show interest in solving the problem:
- "Can you tell me how it started?"
- "Could you tell me what a resolution would look like for you?"
- "Tell me more?"
- "How did you feel when that happened?"
- "How do you see your contribution towards this?"
All the above are non-threatening and when you ask them, people become more relaxed as they feel you are listening to them. One thing you need to look out for is to listen to what is not being said in the conversation and try to dig deeper on those aspects.
An important part of the discussion is the need to acknowledge the other person. You do this so you can build on what the other person is saying, which again shows that you are listening and want to help solve the problem. Any of the following statements can help achieve that:
- "What I hear you saying is…"
- "Is this what you are saying?"
- "Can I clarify?"
Once you have had one or two discussions with the people individually, it will then be time to bring them together. At this point, they will be more relaxed and open to change, purely from the individual discussions you had before with them. Let them discuss their issues and help facilitate where you need to.
In your mind, you may be thinking to yourself that doing all of this will consume a significant amount of time, and you may be right! But just think of the countless hours that have already been in the past due to the conflict. You need to take the time to sort this out, even it takes a while.
Throughout this process, it is important to remember that your tone is important. It is also worth mentioning to the individuals that they need to be in the mindset to resolve the conflict as this will change their emotional state which will affect the way they react. Think about it, if you go into any conversation saying, "I don’t want to do this", you are going to have a vastly different outcome than if you went into it intending to fix it.
Until next time…keep learning!