Many leaders, coaches and mentors talk about the different options when it comes to solving problems, like when it's good to be assertive and create conflict or that maybe it's okay in certain situations to avoid issues if they're not important enough to you. This is all perfectly fine and has it's place in terms of conflict management. What I haven't seen anyone writing or talking about is now that I have an issue, what is the right way of going about dealing with it? Dealing with a conflict by creating a storm of anger and dissatisfaction obviously isn't ideal. So how do I not step on anyone's toes? How do I know that I've acted respectfully and correctly in dealing with the issue?
Step 1: Take some time and thoroughly examine the issue within yourself. Make sure that you're not making off the cuff remarks to your colleagues, or possibly making an overly emotional response to something that in the end isn't important. Assuming that the feelings and the issue still persists, let's move on to step 2.
Have a PRIVATE conversation: One of the biggest mistakes most of us make when it comes to conflict management is talking up a storm to anyone that will listen about the issues we have with a situation, someone, or the decision that someone has made. By doing that we are not only showing a lack of respect for the other person who made that decision, but we're also creating an atmosphere of mistrust and negativity with those we have complained to. If you have an issue, a conflict, with someone or a decision that someone has made, please show yourself and that person respect by taking them aside where no one can hear and have a private conversation with them. You'll have the opportunity to voice your issues, while getting a peek into what the other person is thinking and why they took that decision. Here it is obviously important to be tactful, and do our best to first compliment the other person, and use I sentences when explaining the issue and what we are feeling. For example: "I appreciate all the hard work you've put into this, I feel that it's however moving us away from our larger goal of growth." Why don't people do this more often? Let's be honest, avoiding uncomfortable situations is something that most humans are extremely good at. I however would urge all of my readers and clients to take the high road, be someone who is honourable. And rather than dragging someone's name through the mud, have an honest one to one conversation with them. At this point 95% of issues are dealt with. For the last 5% we can continue to step 3.
Get direct leadership involved. Hold a meeting where the two of you having the conflict are, with your direct manager(s) where you both can explain the situation. Having a third / fourth person there to moderate may help the situation, or it may be that they have the expertise or experience to help in dealing with the issue. By this time we have taken care of 99.5% of problems.
In the rare case that this still hasn't solved the issue, then it's worth either calling a larger team meeting if it affects the rest of the team, or having an open discussion with your direct management's manager, again inviting all parties who have been involved in the previous discussions. For a respectful and honourable resolution to come about, one always has to invite the other parties that have been involved and obviously not share with others who are not involved, no matter how much we may want to complain about our colleagues at times.
What about those people who don't have a manager, say husband and wife who have a conflict for example of the husband going out every Friday night and leaving his wife at home with the kids (apologies for the stereotype). I had a personal mentor who anytime him and his wife got into any kind of argument they stopped and prayed. In the presence of a God who they believe is the embodiment of love, they had to put their egos aside and admit which of the two was correct, or maybe that both are correct partially. I'm not saying that everyone needs to be religious to reach similar results. Often times it's enough for both sides to take a deep breath, and to say a sentence or two coming from a loving place. This reframes the issue from a me vs. you, to an us issue. So the wife can say: "Husband, I love you and really appreciate all of the hard work you do. I know that going out on Fridays is something you enjoy, do you think that we could make a compromise that you would go every other week so that I have more of an opportunity to be with you?" Then the husband can respond (not having his ego hurt by the wife's question) with: "Wife, I love you too and absolutely appreciate all the work you do at home with the kids. I think that going out every other week is something that I'd be willing to do to be able to spend some more time with you." This is obviously an idealistic scenario and I know that, but the point is here that when we don't make personal attacks, and rather come from a loving, supporting position, the other side is going to be much more receptive to whatever we may need (assuming we are in the right). The key thing here is to remove as much as possible anyone feeling that their ego has been encroached on. As long as issues aren't taken personally, often a solution is right around the corner.
Have you tried this method of solving interpersonal conflicts? How has it worked for you? Any negative experiences in solving problems? Let me know in the comments below!