Manager's Tips and Tools

by Manager Development Services

Conflict Mediation and Resolution



This is a situation in which two or more members of staff are angry and/or confrontational toward one another.  No matter the disagreement, this process is effective in airing and resolving issues.  But, this is a more involved process in which I, as manager, must do a lot of work facilitating.

The obvious purpose of this type of meeting is to find a solution to the conflict (this is what the employees will see).  But the core purpose in this particular process is to heal wounds (this is what I want).

As manager, I could easily order the individuals to shake hands and stop their behavior or get fired, but this doesn’t solve the issue.  Resentment and dissension will fester and breed more resentment and dissension, which will affect other staff by creating rescuers, pot stirrers, and anarchists.

I want this issue beaten to death and settled as effectively as it can be settled.  I do not want to have to terminate a valuable employee only to have to hire and train another.  People do get on one another’s nerves at times and will have conflict.  If I were to terminate every employee who has a disagreement with another, hiring and firing is all I’d get done.

This process involves the following steps:

1) Setting the stage

2) Explaining my position as facilitator

3) Setting the ground rules for this meeting

4) Peeling the onion to discover the issue

5) Getting each person to see the other’s perspective

6) Getting out of the problem and into the solution

7) Obtaining a commitment


1)  Setting the stage. First, I want to hold this meeting in a neutral place.  Usually, my office is sufficient.  I do not want to meet in one of the party’s offices.  I want to arrange the chairs in a triangle with their chairs facing me, between me and the door, and each of their chairs equal distance from the door.  Everyone needs to be sitting at the same level (no one higher than another).    I also want some kind of table (even if just a coffee table) between the two of them.  I do not want them able to touch one another easily.

If there are more than two parties involved, I place them at equal distance from one another around the table.  If I have an idea which parties are on which side of the disagreement, I stagger them around the table.

Positioning is important if I am to make each party feel equal and feel like they got a “fair shake.”  Positioning subconsciously sets not only the stage, but also the mood.  In conflict resolution, I am already dealing with two or more parties who feel victimized and are defensive.  Any perception, real or not, of favoritism, will sabotage this process.

2)  Explaining my position as facilitator at this meeting. I state my concern for each person and how their combined behavior is affecting fellow employees in the department.  I express how anything which affects the department in a negative way will not be tolerated.

I explain that I will be mediator of this meeting. I will allow each individual to speak as much as they wish, but only when I give them permission.  I tell them there will be ground rules for this meeting and I will maintain them.  I then guarantee them, in a firm and precise manner, that this issue will be resolved at this meeting.

It’s important I remain impartial in this meeting.  I don’t joke or kid around with any one party.  Each individual must feel like they’ve had a fair shake if this is going to work.  I also need to make sure there is no conflict of interest or one party will not feel they were treated fairly.  (Example:  a person feels I am favoring another with referrals and the two of them are fighting.  There is no way the party who feels slighted will be satisfied with the outcome.  But more importantly, this is not an issue between the two parties, but rather an issue between the slighted party and myself.  In this case, I will first try to resolve this issue with a 1:1 Red Flag or Come to Jesus meeting, and if it is not resolved, then I will defer mediation to my superior.)

3)  Setting the ground rules. I explain that there will be ground rules at this meeting in order for each party to be heard.  I then state the ground rules.

1)    The parties are not allowed to speak to one another only to me and only when I ask them to.  (Later, they may be able to speak to one another, but only if I allow them.)

2)    No interrupting.  (Each person will have an opportunity to speak as much as they like, but only when I have given them permission.)

3)    No name calling.

4)    No verbal abuse.

5)    No physical violence.

6)    If I feel a person’s behavior is “out-of-hand” or abusive, I will stop the discussion and warn the individual.  If the behavior continues, that person will be asked to leave and we remaining parties will continue without them.

7)    No one is allowed to repeat anything said at this meeting outside of this meeting.

8)    Both parties will agree to remain in this meeting until the issue is resolved.

I ask both parties if they understand the ground rules and ask if clarification is needed.  I then ask each individually if they agree to the ground rules.  All parties must agree verbally and loud enough (no mumbling) for all in the room to hear.  Only after all agree, do I continue.

4)  Peeling the onion to discover the issue.  In every issue, or problem, there is the obvious issue and then the core issue.  I want to get to the heart of the issue and the best way to do this is to find the “core parties.”

Often I’ll find multiple parties in a conflict, which have aligned themselves on different sides of an issue.  An individual will typically get their feelings hurt and feel violated, frustrated, or offended by another.  This person expresses their hurt and is then “rescued” by another well-meaning individual who solicits support from other well-meaning individuals.  Other individuals rush to defend the alleged perpetrator and voila – sides are taken.

If I am vigilant in Open Heaven, I can often recognize a conflict is developing before there are sides taken, and deal with it immediately.  In a conflict where sides have already been taken, I must identify the obvious parties (the sides) and then discern the core parties (the parties which created the issue and which the issue is really about).

Once I discover the core parties, I get rid of the rescuers, pot stirrers, and antichrists.  I go through the ground rules again, ask if clarification is needed, and have them both agree on the ground rules.  Next, I decide who will speak first.

As far as I’m concerned, there are basically only two types of conflicts:

“Victim / Perpetrator” and “Victim / Victim.”

Victim / Perpetrator. This is when one party perceives themselves to be the victim and the other party the perpetrator.  The perceived perpetrator is usually defending themselves.  In this situation I want the victim’s perspective first.

Victim / Victim.  This is when both parties perceive themselves to be a victim and the other party the perpetrator.  Two victims and no perpetrator.  In this instance, I want the party who appears most aggressive to speak first. The reason I have the most aggressive speak first is to allow this party to let off steam.

Once I decide who will speak first, I ask them to tell me (not the other party) the facts of the issue as they perceive it.  The other party will want to interrupt, but I do not allow it.  Instead, I remind them of the ground rules, and I remind them that they have agreed to them.

I let this person speak as much as they want, interrupting only to keep the individual on track, stop them from becoming repetitious, and to enforce the ground rules.  When this person is finished speaking, I give feedback and ask for clarification on some points.

“What I hear you saying is…” and I paraphrase what the person said.   I make a note on specific pleasing and displeasing behaviors stated by the individual about the other person.  I then ask if I am correct.

“Is that what you are saying?  Correct me if I am wrong.”

Once I believe I have a good grasp of this person’s position, I thank them and ask the second individual to tell me (not the other party) the facts of the issue as they perceive it.  Once again, I let this person speak as much as they want, interrupting only to keep the individual on track, to stop them from becoming repetitious, and to enforce the ground rules.

When this second person is finished speaking, I ask for clarification on some points.  Once I believe I have a good grasp of this person’s position, I paraphrase what the person said.   I make a note on specific pleasing and displeasing behaviors stated by this individual about the other person.  I then ask if I am correct.

The object of this interaction is to get all the cards on the table.  Sometimes, once all the cards are on the table the parties discover they have misinterpreted one another’s motives, and the issue is no longer an issue.

While each person is speaking, I make mental, and if necessary, written notes of key points.  I mainly look for the behavior(s) which caused the issue and how that behavior was interpreted by each party.  Behavior is easier to change than beliefs or opinions.

Next, I ask the first party if they have anything to add – and I listen.  Then I ask the second party if they have anything to add – and I listen.

Now, I paraphrase the issue as I perceive it, being as impartial and yet as honest as possible. I repeat the key points (behaviors) and their effect on each party.  It’s important I don’t accuse, nor do I judge either party.

5)  Getting each person to see the other’s perspective. I want each person to look through the eyes of the other.  I want each to feel the emotions their behavior invokes in the other.  And I want each to understand the other’s motivations behind their behavior.  I’ve learned that people basically want to get along and work well with one another.  It’s rare that a person will go out of his or her way just to “screw” with another (and people who do don’t belong on my team).

Example: John is angry with Susan for being incompetent and purposely sabotaging him.  He accuses her of always being late with the specs, causing him to get behind.  Susan is angry at John for disrespecting her, accusing her of being lazy, and nagging her incessantly.  At first this appears to be an example of victim / victim conflict.  And as in most conflicts, this is an example of simple misunderstanding.

Me:  “John, what happens when Susan is late with the daily specs?”

John:  “It puts me behind in my calls and appointments with clients.”

Me:  “And when you get behind how does it make you feel?”

John:  “I feel rushed, frustrated.  I begin to forget things.  I also get pissed because I see Susan just joking around every morning when she should be working.”

Me:  “Susan, if you were late to an appointment with a client how would you feel?”

(Susan is going to want to defend herself at this point, but it is important I keep her on track and have her only answer my questions.)

Susan:  “I would be embarrassed and probably frustrated.”

Me:  “Would you get angry if you believed someone else’s incompetence was the cause of you being late.”

Susan:  “Of course, but…”

Me:  “So, can you see how John may be upset?  I’m not saying John is either right or wrong, but can you see how he could be upset?”

Susan:  “I can see why he could be upset, but…”

Me:  “Do you want John to be upset?”

Susan:  “No, of course not.  But…”

Me:  “Susan, do you do your job?”

Susan (defensive): “Yes, I do a good job.”

Me:  “Susan, what time do you start work?”

Susan:  “6a.m.”

Me:  “John, what time do you get to the office?”

John:  “Around 10.”

Me:  “Susan, when do you take your lunch?”

Susan:  “10:30, except when input is late.  On those days I take it at 9:45”

Me:  “So on those days, you’re technically at lunch when John arrives?”

Susan:  “Yes.”

Me:  “John, do you take a lunch?”

John:  “Yes.”

Me:  “How would you feel if I expected you to work through lunch and called you lazy if you didn’t?”

John (hesitant):  “I wouldn’t like it much.”

Me:  “Would you feel disrespected?”

John:  “Yes, but…”

Me:  “Insulted?”

John:  “Yes.”

Me:  “So can you see how Susan might feel disrespected and insulted?”

John:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Do you purposely mean to disrespect or insult Susan?”

John:  “No, but…”

Me:  “Susan, why are you late getting the specs to John?”

Susan:  “They’re late only when input is late getting them to us.  On those days, that’s why I take lunch at 9:45 instead of 10:30.  Everyone gets them late on those days, but I make sure John gets his as soon as they’re processed.”

Me:  “So you adjust your lunch schedule to get the specs out as soon as possible?”

Susan:  “Yes.”

Me:  “John, did you know that Susan takes lunch early to get the specs out when input is late?”

John:  “No, not really.”

Me:  “John, is it possible that Susan is doing her best with what she has to work with?”

John (grudgingly):  “I guess she is.”

Me:  “Susan, is it possible that John’s feelings are justified even though they may be misdirected?”

Susan:  “I guess I can understand how he could be angry if he didn’t know.”

6)  Get out of the problem and into the solution

Once I feel that both parties have a clearer understanding of the situation from looking through each other’s eyes, I want to solicit suggestions for solution options.

Me:  “John, had you known that Susan was doing her best, and even going to the extent of changing her lunchtime to accommodate you, would you have thought or acted differently?”

John:  “Well, yes.”

NOTE: At anytime during this interaction, if the parties appear to recognize their respective parts in the confrontation and are responsive to the feelings of the other, I can direct them to speak to one another instead of me.

Me:  “Susan, what do you need from John in this situation?  How can we make this better?

Susan:  “I would like John to treat me with respect and talk to me instead of criticizing me.”

Me:  “Don’t tell me.  Tell John.”

Susan:  “I want to be treated with respect.  I want you to talk to me and not criticize me.”

Me:  “John, how do you respond?”

John:  “Sure, I can do that.  I didn’t know she…”

Me:  “Tell her, not me.”

John:  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know you were changing your breaks. You never said anything.”

Me:  “John, what do you need from Susan in this situation?  How can we make this better?”

John (thinking):  “Please tell me next time.”

Me:  “Susan, are you willing to do that?”

Once I have them speaking to one another calmly, I ask how this situation could have been prevented.  Susan responds with she could have told John the situation, and John responds with he could have asked her why the specs were late.

I suggest that the primary problem is with input being late.  Both agree.  I then ask why Susan didn’t come to me with this problem the first time it happened.  I remind them both that my job is to remove the boulders and pebbles from their paths so this type of situation doesn’t occur.

As mentioned, it is important that I remain neutral in the conflict and not judge either party.  I want to explore the problems, wants, and needs of each individual.  I do not want this to become a contest or a battle.  Remember, in a contest or a battle there is a winner and a loser, and in a healthy relationship there should be only winners.  These two individuals have a relationship and both need to be winners.

It is also important that I lead by example by responding (not reacting) to the complaints of each individual.  I want to identify each person’s triggers (John’s – incompetence and frustration; and Susan’s – disrespect and insult) and diffuse them.

7)  Obtain a Commitment

Once each party agrees to a solution or compromises on a solution, it is important to write up an agreement explaining what each person is agreeing to and have each sign it.  I give a copy to each and keep copies for their files.  Giving each a copy, provides a physical symbol of the confrontation, their respective parts in it, and their commitment to change.  It’s amazing how quickly people forget what they had said and their intent at the time they said it.

Once the issue appears to be resolved, I still need to be vigilant in observing staff for fallout.  Not just the parties involved, but their coworkers as well.  Well-meaning friends and coworkers can, and often do, stir the pot after a confrontation is resolved.

Within the next couple of days, I also want to email each individual thanking them for their participation in the meeting and their commitment to the agreed resolution.  Then I put a copy of my email in each person’s personnel file for documentation and later reference.

Next, I will clear the boulders in input so this doesn’t happen again.

– excerpt from “Managing from the Heart – A Way of Life”

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November 29, 2010 - Posted by | Counseling Techniques, Employee Coaching, Leadership Skills, Manager Development Tools, Mentoring, Personal Development, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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