How to resolve conflict tactfully in 4 steps
Conflict is never about what appears on the surface.
To learn how to resolve conflicts swiftly and tactfully, you need to be willing to be present, look deeper, listen more attentively and remove yourself form the outcome.
Conflict is costly
CEOs spend almost 3 hours a week and a staggering $359 million US annually (in time/salaries paid) trying to resolve conflict.
If you don’t mind wasting your money for no good reason, purposely being unproductive and ducking your head in the sand when issues arise, then this article is not for you.
On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who spends money in the wisest ways, takes pride in their daily accomplishments and is willing to face challenges head on then you are my people and keep reading.
I believe this step-by-step process will be greatly valuable to you.
Willingness leads to millions
Decades ago, a senior partner at the law firm where I interned asked me to join him in a meeting. Within minutes of the casual greeting pleasantries, it turned into a all-out shouting match.
Sitting back quietly was my senior partner. After a few minutes, he got up, “John, come get some coffee with me. What we serve here tastes like brown water.”
John, who was shouting the loudest, mumbled as we all walked out of the boardroom. What happened next, gave me my first glance into tactful conflict resolution.
As John vented his frustration while we waited for the elevator, the partner asked him: so what’s the real problem?
Before he could get more than a few words in, the partner raised his “no, I get all that. I’m asking you want the real issue is, not what you are making it out to be”.
John stood there, uncomfortably silent.
By the time we got back to the boardroom, freshly brewed coffee in hand, we understood the underlying issues and believed we could get the deal done if we addressed them head on.
Which we did.
How we went about resolving the conflict saved all parties involved a huge amount of money and time. And that is what I want for you.
Whether you are dealing with multi-million dollar conflicts or simply an inter-personal conflict, this step-by-step process will be your greatest ally in resolving the conflict swiftly and tactfully.
It starts with awareness
Before you can tackle the conflict itself, you have to make a conscious effort of awareness.
Let’s be honest, how often have you felt a conflict brewing but chose to wait it out and see?
You’re best bet when you feel something isn’t right, is to take a proactive approach to it.
Lead, don’t simply follow.
Now I’m not saying you should put your nose where it doesn’t belong but if a budding conflict can have repercussions on your colleagues and team members, your culture and your bottom line, then it’s best you step up.
And it starts with awareness.
Take out your note pad and write down a few notes about the conflict that is emerging. Write your first impressions of the conflict and set yourself a reminder to check in on how the conflict is evolving over a few days.
In a day or two, if the conflict dissolves, move on. If not, move on through the three following steps of the process.
Lead with curiosity
As we were making our way down in the elevator, the senior partner relentlessly asked questions. He didn’t offer John any advice. He simply asked one question after the other.
Being a leadership coach now, I understand that my senior partner wanted John to open up.
John’s first answers were glossy, shiny excuses for why he was getting upset. They weren’t the real reason for his frustration and did nothing to help us resolve the conflict.
As you step in with awareness, express genuine curiosity and show a willingness to understand and help. You will get those involved to open up about the real issue.
Lead with curiosity. Don’t assume or presume anything.
Be mindful of the questions you ask as questions not only solicit information, they reveal information. They reveal information about your assumptions, about how much knowledge you have around the conflict, about how assertive you are going to be on resolving it.
And all of those things will feed into the responses you get. So be open with your questions and don’t base them on assumptions or biases.
Let’s be honest, we all have biases.
We all tend to lean towards one person or one explanation more than the other. Some things simply make more sense to us based on our experiences, beliefs, behaviours and world views.
But as a leader, as someone who is proactively looking to resolve a conflict, equity rules and personal biases have no place.
As stated by John W. Budd and Alexander J.S. Colvin in their paper on The Goals and Assumptions of Conflict Management in Organizations, equitycaptures a sense of justice, fairness, and due process. Equitable conflict resolution prevent arbitrary or ego-centred decision-making. As a result equitable conflict resolution outcomes are those that are consistent with the judgment of a reasonable person who does not have a vested interest in a particular outcome.
Fairness plays a huge role here also as all participants should be treated with respect, sensitivity, and privacy.
So as you go about becoming aware of the conflict and diving deeper into asking open and genuine questions, you want to do so with all parties involved and give them the same opportunity to express themselves, free of judgement.
Understanding each point of view will go a long way into establishing you as a fair and unbiased leader.
Authenticity and integrity are the buzzwords of the year but this is how you bring them to life in your everyday business: by showing openness, transparency and fairness in all of your processes, including, conflict resolution.
It doesn’t need fixin’
This last step is where a lot of people trip up and it has everything to do with your mindset as you get involved into resolving this conflict.
At the onset, you have to shift your mindset from one of fixing the situation to facilitating a more positive and better outcome for all parties involved.
You are not the handy-woman. You are not there to fix things – and we all know, from experience, there is no such thing as fixing people.
Your involvement as a leader is to offer options and possible solutions.
Fixing and facilitating are two very different mindsets and I can assure you that you will not be able to reach a facilitating mindset if you have not done the previous work of awareness, curiosity and equity.
Facilitating allows you to take a step back, to analyze the progression of the situation objectively and to remain in a position of service instead of baring the weight of the conflict.
It also allows those involved to take ownership of the part they play in the conflict and participate in the elaboration of a solution.
By establishing a step-by-step process of conflict resolution that promotes awareness, curiosity, equity and ownership, you are empowering yourself and your people to resolve conflict quickly and tactfully.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you have a conflict resolution process in place?
Let me know in the comments below.
To your success,