“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”
Over the course of your professional career you’re going to experience conflict in the workplace. It may be a heated argument over a project, a business strategy gone wrong, or the result of unstated issues between project team members.
Over the course of my career I’ve seen workplace conflict flare only a handful of times. In each case, at least one of the participants maintained their composure such that the argument didn’t fly out of control. This isn’t always the case.
Nearly 2 million workers report being the victim of workplace conflict each year. This includes everything from verbal assaults to physical violence. While it’s a low percentage likelihood that you’ll be a witness to, let alone the victim of, the most serious acts of violence at the office, it’s all but certain you’ll experience lower level conflict.
In fact, if you’re going to be in a position of leadership responsibility you will certainly experience conflict.
Listen Up to Resolve Conflict, Keep Your Cool, and Save the Day
In this article I’m going to unpack two proven methods to resolve workplace conflict, such as an argument, heated disagreement, or verbal insults.
The first method comes from an organization where you might not think conflict occurs: Boy Scouts. However, conflict does occur here because it’s an organization comprised of people, and wherever there are people there will be conflict.
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” – Ronald Reagan
The EAR Conflict Method is taught to 12 year olds, however, it’s just as effective for adults. It’s easy to remember because of the acronym: Express, Address, Resolve. It can be used in situations involving you and another person, or persons, however, it’s best used in resolving conflict between two or more people when you’re not involved.
Express. Each person is given the opportunity to tell their side of the story and express how they view the situation. Equal time is given to all sides and you meditate so no one jumps to conclusions or prejudges the resolution.
Address. After listening to the parties involved, restate the concerns so everyone understands the issue to be resolved. This focuses attention on the issue, not individuals, shifting attention to a common problem that has different points of view.
Resolve. As attention shifts to the common problem, dialog about that problem will occur ultimately leading to a plan effectively resolving the conflict. This might take the form of an obvious decision or may require each party giving up something to meet a compromise. As the mediator, your job is to help influence the discussion in such a way that each side feels as good as possible about the solution.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll chat about whether to confront or not to confront. Until then, keep on listening!