Subject Area: Leadership, Overcoming Adversity, Conflict Resolution, Business strategy, Executive coaching, Active listening, feedback
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Constructive framework for resolving Conflict:
Disputes are a daily part of business life. The key to resolving intense conflict where the parties are not speaking, fighting outright or avoiding each other altogether is to establish a safe framework for them to communicate their differences. Through help of an executive coach the process goes much smoother. Here are some clear rules of the road for doing so:
- Stress absolute confidentiality. Whatever is discussed in the meeting has to be kept private.
- Disclose the fact that there are no hidden agendas. That means the facilitator hasn’t arranged a predetermined outcome with one of the participants. No one is being set up.
- Stress the positives in the relationship, (ex: including a long history of friendship and successful teamwork on major accounts.) Also acknowledge any history of the conflict.
- Tell the participants, “You are bright, intelligent adults — you want to do the right thing.”
- Explain the goal: “To help you understand each other.”
- Explain the role of the coach: “To control the process and keep everybody safe. To establish a win/win environment.”
- Establish the expectation of civility. (ex: Said he wouldn’t allow profanity, loud voices, accusations or escalations.)
- Explain that if the conversation gets heated, it would be stopped.
- Establish a clear time frame: (Ex: “We have one hour, up to two hours if necessary. We don’t have to eat the elephant in one bite. We will meet again Thursday morning at 10 a.m. to continue our discussion and resolve all issues to your satisfaction. We can have additional follow-up meetings if necessary.”)
- Insist that participants use only “I statements.” (For example, “I’m upset when someone takes my parking space.”)
- Disallow “you statements,” which can be inflammatory, and cause defensiveness: (Ex: “You took my parking space, you are very inconsiderate, etc.”)
- Tell the participants to avoid the words “never” and “always,” because they seldom apply, except in the case of physical laws like gravity.
- Instruct participants to avoid clinical labels such as “neurotic, paranoid, schizophrenic,” and to avoid pop-psychology terms like “victim.”
- Occasionally ask participants to repeat back each other’s statements to be certain the listener has actually heard the intended message. (Ex:, “Steve, what did you hear Susan say?”) Then confirm that the meaning was correct.
- Ask all participants to agree to these guidelines, and to sign a letter confirming their willingness to abide by them.
- Let each of them begin with an “I statement,” and followed the discussion to resolution.
The combatants in this case example had several two-hour meetings in which they re-affirmed their friendship and altered their relationship. The COO acknowledged that he was spread too thin, voluntarily relinquished the COO title and took on a smaller, better-fitting job in the organization.
- Conflict 301
- A neutral third party can help you act on what you can’t articulate or acknowledge. As individuals work through their blind spot’s, they constructively reach resolution. Whereas alone, they could not have solved their differences. An executive coach provides the way out for each to mitigate the inevitable fallout.
- 1. Give two examples of an “I” statement.
- 2. Why is structure and guidelines important to the process of resolving conflict?