How to Resolve Conflicts Without Starting World War III

Every now and then your team will develop a conflict.  A certain job isn’t getting done, two people don’t get along, or perhaps there are differing ideas about how to do something.

It can be stressful and intimidating to try lead your team through an in-office conflict.  How do you solve the problem and how do you keep everyone happy?

"Hey guys, time for our office meeting!"

In a prior post I discussed how to critique your team members when they did something incorrect.  The communication skills mentioned there will certainly help you resolve conflicts, but being a diplomat requires another set of skills.

First you must recognize the potentialsources of conflicts:

Sources of In-Office Conflicts

Most people think that a problem exists because of a personality conflict.

“The assistant didn’t do her job correctly because she is lazy and doesn’t care enough.”

Sometimes that is the case, but there may be other forces at work.  Maybe the assistant didn’t do her job correctly because she didn’t know that was her job to do in the first place!

When a conflict arises, it can be very frustrating.  But take a moment to relax and think about what the source of the conflict might be.  I find that many times it’s due to role and goal uncertainty.  People incorrectly assume some tasks will be done by someone else.

Okay, so you’ve thought about the source of the conflict, now what will you do about it?

Conflict Resolution Steps

Clarify: You’ve taken some time to correctly identify the problem.  Now invite the rest of the team to describe exactly what they think the problem is.  Sometimes everyone is in agreement and a simple error in communication is to blame.

Negotiate: Once you’ve established that a conflict actually does exist, it’s time to discuss how to resolve it.  Have both sides of the debate present their opinions and potential solutions.  If this is a heated personal conflict between team members, make sure they don’t let emotions escalate.

Vote: If no compromise can be found, it’s time to take a vote.  Poll the team about how the issue should be handled.  Ultimately, you’re the boss and it’s your call.  However the team will support the ultimate decision if they feel they contributed to it.

Postpone: You’ve taken a vote and it’s a tie.  You open a dialogue again but still the conflict can’t seem to be resolved.  Consider postponing the decision for a day or so.  This give the team time to “sleep on it.”  People may change their votes after some time to reflect.  I highly recommend postponement if your dealing with a heated personal conflict.  Giving time for emotions to calm down can make all the difference.

Fire/Impose Will: In the end, it’s your practice.  You are responsible for the office policies and systems.  If a conflict still cannot be resolved, you have to make a decision about how to proceed.  In the case of personality conflicts, this can mean letting someone go.  As difficult as that can be, you can feel assured that you have exhausted every possible diplomatic solution first.

If you skip any of these steps, you may create resentment within the team.  People want to share their opinions and know that they matter to you.  This process as described above will help you tackle obstacles without generating additional stress.

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