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Seven steps to heaven

A step-by-step guide to approaching any conflict, by Heather Meeker Green, a negotiation, conflict management, persuasion, and communication specialist at Accordence Inc.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace is a critical skill for anyone. Tensions can arise quickly and are a natural part of human nature, so being able to deal with them efficiently or in the moment can prevent an enormous amount of frustration, hostility and organizational paralysis. Being able to understand conflict and steer it to productive outcomes will enhance one’s chance of success and one’s enjoyment of the workplace. The following is a step-by-step guide to approaching any conflict from Heather Meeker Green of Accordence, Inc., a negotiation, conflict management, persuasion, and communication consultancy. When encountering a conflict with a colleague, whether a direct report, manager, or customer or supplier, try the following:

1: Firstly, slow everything down
People often rush under stress and fear and speak more quickly when tense. If you can, take a short break to collect yourself before attempting to solve conflicts. When having the conversation, imagine everything around you moving at half speed. Slowing down your speech enables you to listen to yourself, almost as if you were outside your own body. You can pay more attention to the other person if you take your time. The resulting awareness helps you absorb not just the sound but the honest message being sent. By reducing speed, you may help the other person slow down as well and encourage speaking without interrupting each other as much. This minimizes the chances of miscommunication. Result: You will accurately hear the other person’s words, and more importantly, what they mean to say.

2. Take a step back and observe
Try to understand what’s going on in the situation as a whole, with you and with the other side. Be as objective as possible. In this way you can really analyze your thoughts and emotions, the identity you bring to this interaction and what is driving you underneath it all. Similarly, try to assess what is happening for the other party. Being able to make wise choices is dependent upon being able to look at the situation with as much openness and “level-headedness” as possible. Result: You will be able to segregate emotional triggers you have about the person, situation or subject, in order to approach the issue more clearly.

3: Discover and Understand the Other Person’s View.
Managing the dispute or disagreement means being able to uncover what is happening and empathize with the other person. No matter how difficult, doing your best to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling , how they perceive themselves in this situation and what is driving them will enable you to get more easily to solutions. Showing the person that you are attempting to understand is important. While you do not have to agree, you also do not need to spend a lot of time explicitly disagreeing with them either. Result: Hopefully this practice will allow the other person to also calm their fears that they won’t be heard.

4. Reflect and assert your own needs
It is certainly also crucial that you are aware of your own thoughts, emotions and wishes and be able to communicate them in a way the other party can hear. Making clear statements about your perceptions in a calm tone will help you be heard. Result: Raising your concerns will allow you to leave a conflict feeling confident and positive about the resolution.

5. Find the light at the end of the tunnel
Conflicts are inevitable and often uncomfortable. On the other hand, they are key to innovation. If people repress conflicts, they may actually respond in more ugly, subtle and indirect ways later. Really looking to how resolving the tension can help is critical in a workplace conflict. By speaking directly about an issue, will it finally be handled? Can an important decision now be made? Is an apology long overdue? Result: Seeking the benefits or value of the conflict will help move the process forward.

6: Share your “stories” with each other
Provide the space for each person to tell their rationale for the emergence of the conflict and what is true for them. The focus should be on listening to the other person’s story and not correcting or blaming. Result: Each person learns what he or she doesn’t know from the other parties through effective telling of their respective stories.

7: Find a Mutually Agreeable Solution
Once you’ve done the above steps, then it’s time to find a way to solve the conflict. Given each person’s story and needs, try to find a way that each person can walk away feeling that they have been treated fairly. Result: Implementing these seven steps will help you more skillfully manage conflict and allow you and your organization to not just reduce the impact of conflict, but also to use it to enhance working relationships.

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