Conflict in the workplace is natural and normal, says mediator Catherine Lampton. In fact, she says, avoiding conflict costs money. Research shows almost all terminations are due to unresolved conflict, and leaders spend up to half of every day dealing with it. Here’s how to turn potentially destructive and expensive conflict into constructive conflict.
1. Be Prepared
Suspend your point of view – you already know what you think. Maybe you’ll learn something! Know that both sides are valid; your job is to discover how that is true. Make the time. Every minute spent is an investment in your bottom line.
2. Gather information
Bring issues to the surface by asking respectful, open-ended questions and determine underlying motives and interests for their positions. Assess whether the conflict is work-related or interpersonal.
3. Listen! Listen!
Be willing to hear anything with respect and interest. Suspend your response and keep your body language neutral. A leader makes the best decisions with the most information. See the value in every comment.
4. Be Prepared
Work related: Brainstorm with involved stakeholders. Write all ideas on chart paper and prioritize them, perhaps by giving each person three stickies or dots to vote with anonymously during a break. Be transparent about the decision process; be clear beforehand if the vote results count or if you will make the final call. Use a neutral facilitator if possible. Disagreement can result in better solutions and increase cooperation and respect.
Interpersonal: Meet with the parties for one to two hours, alternating time together and individually. Help them resolve their differences if possible using No. 2 above. Be patient and encouraging; the positive results can be infectious.
5. Reframe Your Mind
Conflict is normal; expect and respect it. Constructive conflict empowers everyone. Constructive conflict increases your organization’s flexibility and health.
Lampton is a principal in Mediation&More, offering mediation, facilitation and training services for individuals and groups.