Problems often require an external force to resolve them; a force that can view problems from an overhead view and separate bias from decisions. Every now and then, you might find yourself being that external force.
Conflicts are inevitable in the workplace; though things usually sort themselves out and rarely require an intervening force. However, sometimes you as a leader need to step in and mediate when things get tense. Here are a few tips take just might make your mediating life slightly easier.
Conflict in the Workplace
1) Narrow down the conflict
Two individuals may appear diametrically opposed to each other, yet in reality are merely bickering over a small issue. Conflicts often get blown out of proportion and the initial focus of the disagreement gets lost. Rather than being a single disagreement, conflicts may snowball and accumulate a collection of irrelevant yet heated issues. Personal problems with other workers are sometimes added to the mix.
To make the rest of the conflict resolution process easier, weed out these irrelevant issues. Clearly identify what the core of the disagreement is and refocus the discussion on a few issues. Create common ground where both sides can agree with; then begin highlighting the actual disputes. Separating the mess from the real discussion is tough when embroiled in the conflict, but as an outsider it’s easier to see the real problems.
In short: Sometimes people fight over things for the sake of fighting over things. Stop that. Narrow down the disagreements to a few areas which really matter; only then can communication be effective.
2) Cool it off
Fiery and heated discussions rarely go anywhere; don’t bother. This is because individuals in a state of anger are usually unreceptive to other viewpoints and are unlikely to compromise. Escalation of tension is more likely when both parties are riled up.
To diffuse the situation, separate both parties. Go for a coffee break or postpone discussions so that the initial wave of anger that follows a conflict can subside. As time is given for individuals to reflect, they sometimes realize that the conflict is exaggerated; this makes future discussion easier to facilitate.
3) Create a perception of impartiality
Even if you are impartial, this may not come off to the parties at hand. Care must be taken to preserve an image of impartiality, or your ability for either party to reach a compromise is shattered as one party will always feel the compromise is imbalanced. If you agree with something said, refer to the idea, not the individual who said it. This creates the perception that you aren’t siding with one party, merely that the idea stated is valid regardless of who said it. Unevenly distributing questions among parties may hamper your image of impartiality; though this is situational.
Sometimes the conflict isn’t between two colleagues or workers, but rather with you and a customer. If this is the case, avoid acting defensive. Acknowledge your mistakes without pointing out theirs. No one likes being wrong and your priority here is to diffuse the situation, not to gain satisfaction from outlining their mistakes.
The principles of conflict resolution which are outlined in this article aren’t just meant for your typical corporate workplace. They can be applied anywhere there is conflict provided you adapt to the specific situation at hand.