Are You Using this Powerful Tool to Resolve Conflict?

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By Regina Schnell

No matter how big or small, workplace conflict is emotionally and physically draining. It’s tough to avoid the “you against me” mentality that comes with any disagreement. The desire to place blame and win the battle often outweighs the greater good for both parties. As a manager, you’re responsible for effectively managing workplace conflict and teaching your team to do the same.

But first, take off your manager hat.

Let’s say a member of your team arrives late to work most days of the week. As a result, she misses important meetings. When she is present, she’s usually disinterested and non-participative. Her lack of engagement is causing team morale to decline as others pick up her slack. It’s creating conflict. You’re receiving complaints and know you must address the issue.

Before you dive in, take a moment to recognize that in most conflicts, the issue is not the issue. In other words, there is usually an underlying problem that begs to be addressed first.

So rather than think of yourself as a manager who needs to fix the problem, put on the hat of an investigator. Your sole mission is to improve the situation by understanding and addressing the root cause of the problem.

Seek first to understand…

The late best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen Covey says it best: “seek first to understand, then be understood.” In most human interactions, the opposite is practiced. 

Although it’s difficult to admit, we tend to be selfish by nature. We want others to understand us—first and last. Taking time to understand another person becomes a long-forgotten afterthought. This, of course, leaves a trail of fractured relationships where people feel unheard and misunderstood. 

When a workplace disagreement occurs, it’s layered on top of this already fragile relationship and BOOM! You’re smack in the middle of conflict.

There is a simple, yet powerful solution to workplace strife: questions. 

Questions lead to understanding.

Nothing holds as much power to cripple conflict than an inquiry. A question is conflict’s kryptonite—giving you the ability to clearly see and address the right problem.

For example, in the case of the disengaged employee described earlier you can invite her to a private meeting and ask these questions, broken into three types:

1. Relational Questions like, What’s going well for you this week? How are you feeling? These questions aren’t about dodging the issue. It’s about establishing a comfort zone for your employee. You want to connect and build trust by genuinely showing interest in her—human-to-human.

2. Open-ended Questions like, What’s the morale around you? What are your concerns? These open-ended questions give your employee the space to say what’s on her mind—leaving your perception of the problem out of it. Resist the urge to insert your opinions or drive for a solution at this stage.

3. Detailed Questions like, Why do you think…? How would you…? Now, you’re ready to ask questions that add more context to the situation. Maintain a state of open curiosity to dig deeper into your understanding. Your questions can lead to an unexpected epiphany for your employee (i.e. Wow, I never thought of that!) or a mutual resolution to the problem at hand.

Listen more.

After mediating hundreds of workplace conflicts, I’ve discovered most people talk too much and don’t listen enough. Questions help tip the balance in the other direction as you focus on inquiring (or understanding) over responding (or fixing). It’s amazing how quickly a conflict can turnaround by simply asking questions and then listening to understand.

Ask me your questions!

Figuring out the right questions to ask in various conflict scenarios isn’t always as intuitive as you might think. Ask the wrong question and you could end up spiraling toward increased conflict, or worse, litigation. If you’re stuck and need help coming up with questions that lead to resolution, contact me. I offer a free, 20-minute phone consultation—no strings attached.

Get a Complimentary Strengths Finder Assessment

Have you ever noticed that most people spend too much time addresses weaknesses—their own or that of others? Interestingly, the negative focus on the weaknesses that need to be fixed, rather than what strengths can be developed, tends to exacerbate workplace conflict. 

Special Limited-Time Offer (expires 1/31/17): If you’re interested in discovering how the natural strengths and abilities of you and your team can weave together and work in sync (rather than in conflict), let’s talk about how you can get complimentary Strengths Finder assessments as part of an initial team evaluation. Call (858) 414-7354 to take advantage of this special offer today!