If two drivers meet in a narrow lane and neither will back up, the knowledge and skill required in such situation will be how to modify one or both of the drivers’ behaviour to resolve this conflict. Knowledge of the respective cubic capacities of engines and the political affiliations of the drivers will either be useless or of only marginal help. What is required is an effective intervention now by someone.
The intervention could be made by either driver or by the farmer who is leaning on the gate, in the role of a third party whose world may be de-stabilised by irrational disputants. The skills present in this trio will determine the ratio of twisted metal, high blood pressure and wasted energy to effective resolution. Either adversaries or third parties behave skilfully or they fail to resolve the situation. They need the critical skill of coping with conflict.
If parties to a conflict at work see their needs as opposing goals, then in a manner of speaking they will not back up either. Someone needs to change someone’s behaviour to make progress, or to restructure the basic circumstances. If the lane can be widened, then both may pass. Or, more elegantly, if perceptions of the width and the value of joint action are seen, then perhaps both may pass – with due care and attention. At work, if options for mutual gain are identified, then people can see their mutual world in terms of overlapping circles, not opposite corners of an industrial boxing ring.
But, again, someone needs to deliberately and skilfully intervene. The farmer leaning on the gate in the industrial setting can be any intelligent and skilled participant or third party. It would be a manager, a representative, a worker, a personnel specialist, a trainer – we all can act. We are all part of the drama. Again, our skill must be pointed and intervention now (bearing in mind that skilled intervention includes knowing when not to intervene) and on an ongoing basis. Short and long term goals require choosing, ideas require developing and actions require execution.
The knowledge and experience that is of practical help in coping with conflict can be found in very different theatres of experience; international diplomacy, industrial relations, moulding public opinion and handling terrorism are four crucial ones. The point of reviewing successful practice in theatres of action such as these is to help us categorise strategies and tactics – to produce checklists of useful measures that can be taken right away.
Life is full of situations where adversaries, colleagues, friends and relations will not back up or back down. The situations differ, of course, in important ways: the substance is different. International conflict may have proliferations of nuclear missiles on the agenda; arguments within the family may only have the choice of the summer holiday as the substantive issue. Intensity is another important dimension; the background climate can be one of détente or cold war. The holiday discussed within the family can be matter of fact or an intense emotional battle due to peripheral or surrounding circumstances, like shortage of money or your spouse’s desire to bring mother-in-law along.
Both these and countless other situations are sharp moments in the process of living – moments of conflict, change and consequences – where events can escalate or be resolved. Whether the missile is fired or it is not. The holiday turns out well or it does not.
Any situation that leads to conflict can be destructive or constructive. It can drain energy or raise it. Conflict can be uncontrolled or can be controlled. There can be too much conflict; there also can be too little of it. But the world around it shows there is little need to justify coping with conflict as a basic survival skill.
Resolve conflict now
Conflict is a fact of life, it is inevitable, no matter who you are, what you do, we all encounter conflict situations either inside or outside the workplace there is no running or hiding from this fact. But before we start freaking out about being in a conflict situation which will eventually happen sooner or later there are a few facts about conflict that we must understand.
First conflict is not usually a bad thing, just think about it, how many times did it happen to you throughout your life that you had a conflict with someone or started off on the wrong foot and then you ended up being best friends? How many times have you had an argument or a conflict with someone else then after it was resolved your relation became stronger or better than it ever was before ? the fact is that a conflict situation can actually be an opportunity if we choose to look at it this way for us to build stronger relations with others either in or outside our working environment.
Now that we got this out of the way and before getting into the actual process of resolving conflict, let’s look at when is a certain situation or disagreement we have with a colleague, subordinate or supervisor is considered to be a workplace conflict? Certainly not every minor disagreement and some of the major ones as well we may have with a co-worker can be considered as a workplace conflict. There is no rule that says you have to like and be liked by each and every single person in your workplace. Your company doesn’t pay you your salary to like and be liked by everybody, sure it’s important for the company if all employees are in harmony and get along well, but at the end of the day the company pays you to get the job done so for any situation to qualify as an official workplace conflict it must be hindering or stopping you from doing your job.
The Conflict Resolution process :
1. State the problem in a non-defensive manner Simply stating the problem in a non-defensive way is the natural first step. Find a private area with the other party with whom you have the conflict and simply tell him/her that we do have a conflict situation and lets work together to get it resolved, please tell me honestly what exactly is bothering you and how is that related to me.
2. Listen Just listen and do all you can to encourage him/her to keep talking , It’s very important to stay calm and in control cause he/she can start saying things that may not be exactly true or that you feel them to be so unfair and it’s natural to feel you want to jump in there and interrupt this person but it’s very important here to resist this urge to interrupt.
3. Ask questions and be sure that both sides of the conflict have been aired and understood Ask a lot of open ended questions and TED (Tell, Explain, Describe ) questions to get him/her to talk more and explain the situation. Keep asking questions till the other party explained everything from his/her point of view.
4. Remain non-defensive This is the big challenge, staying in control and not letting yourself get defensive while you are hearing possible untrue and unfair comments being made about you personally and resisting the urge for defending yourself because the right time to do so did not come yet.
5. Perception is 100% of the Conflict Remember that perception is 100% of the conflict and must be dealt with in order to solve the issue and move on. Keep in mind that this person’s perception is their own reality, try to see things from their view point.
6. Get Permission to tell your side of the conflict it’s important to get permission first to tell your side of the conflict to make a point and make sure you both know that he/she has finished saying everything and now it’s your turn. This should make him/her listen to you and give you a chance to tell your side of the story.
7. Focus on Behavior not personality Always keep your conversation focused on specific behaviors rather than on personality judgments you have about the other person’s personality.
8. Be specific and provide evidence Try to include evidence to back up your case and don’t forget to be specific and avoid generalizations. Remember Specificity provides answers while vagueness creates questions.
9. Agree on what the problem is Try your best to agree both on what the specific problem is. It is very important to have concurrence from both parties to agree to what exactly is the problem.
10. Agree on a solution and plan of action Agree together on a mutually convenient compromise and put the action plan together of who does what.
11. Follow up Schedule a follow-up meeting to see if the proposed solution and plan of action is effective or do we need to try something else.
12. Keep the dialogue going Remember you never know maybe you will end up being best friends, it happened a million times before.
Language to use and avoid during the above conflict resolution process
Be specific and avoid vague language
Be as clear and specific as you can be. Avoid language that can be interpreted differently by the parties, such as the following:
✓ As soon as possible
✓ If necessary
✓ Wherever appropriate
✓ When convenient
✓ More or less
Remember! Specificity provides answers, while vagueness creates questions . Be specific! Use language such as the following:
✓ By (date and time)
✓ No later than
✓ Completed on
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