Subject Area: Conflict resolution, constructive communication, active listening, business strategy for handling conflict, Leadership, Overcoming Adversity
Contact Course Instructor
Tactical process for resolving conflicts
The ability to resolve conflicts can be critical to an organization’s short-term health and long-term success. Frequently conflicts don’t cure themselves but intensify as time passes. When tension is present due to conflict, people focus on defending positions rather than making the best possible use of available information and resources. This can cloud their vision so that the best options for an organization may never be discussed or even thought of.
Even if you aren’t currently involved in a dispute that requires the involvement of a professional mediator or other neutral third party, understanding the conflict resolution process can help you make decisions in the future that will reduce conflicts and speed their resolution. The central purpose of this conflict resolution process is to improve communication between the parties in conflict and their willingness to work together constructively now and in the future. “Solving” a particular dispute is never guaranteed, but if the parties are willing to try, improvements in communication and mutual respect can usually be made. Ideally, ideas and information begin to flow between the parties and collaborative solutions emerge.
Consider this example: In a $6 million, privately held company, the relationship between the COO and CEO had deteriorated to the point that they were avoiding each other in the hallway. They seldom talked, and spoke mostly through intermediaries. It became apparent that something had to change.
The CEO had an executive coach who offered to set up a safe framework to resolve the conflict. It was almost like setting up a boxing ring — with fixed boundaries, rules and regulations, and a referee. The combatants could fight, but only by the rules. (adapted from: William Frank, 2005 http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2005/06/27/smallb3.html?page=all
How basic conflict resolution works
The coach begins by speaking with each party separately and privately. The coach then invites each party to explain their own issues, to analyze their issues from the other sides’ points of view, and to try to explain and analyze the other sides’ issues. With the parties thus prepared, the coach invites them all to a meeting at which they are asked to agree to ground rules designed to encourage them to communicate about issues. During the course of the meeting they set forth their issues and their underlying interests, and discuss options for moving forward, possibly arriving at an agreed-upon plan of action.
Why conflict resolution works is because participants are invited to think, talk, listen, and learn about issues and options. Rather than being called upon again to defend their territory, they feel heard and respected, which helps them to hear and respect the other parties.