By Anthony Jowid
Many of us are inherently conflict averse – especially in our professional relationships, and with the current shift to virtual offices, effectively dealing with conflict is even more challenging…and perhaps easier to avoid. Now is not the time to ‘put it off’ – it is even more critical to resolve conflict in a timely manner because we have even less human contact and fewer opportunities to truly build trust.
The way conflict is resolved can make a big difference in how our stakeholders feel about our team members and the organization.
Appropriate conflict resolution strengthens the relationships of the individuals involved, increases accountability and helps the organization to achieve its business objectives.
Conflict resolution is used to clarify perspectives and defuse emotions, so we may solve problems, achieve objectives and have functioning relationships.
Timing of the resolution is extremely situational. The timing variables include:
- The importance of the issue to the individuals involved
- The medium of communication
- The ability of the individuals to emotionally calm down enough to be objective
When possible, a meeting allows for a well-thought-out resolution process and increased objectivity. There should be agreement on what is required to execute the meeting effectively. Aspects of an effective meeting include:
- Determining the preparation required, agenda, purpose, outcomes, roles and timing of the meeting
- Listening effectively and focusing on improving the relationship
The orientation of conflict resolution is inside out. Before you can resolve an emotional issue with someone, you must first have yourself ‘in check’ and be clear on what is affecting you. The following are guidelines for preparing yourself:
Why are you feeling emotional? How does the situation make you feel? Clarify what is important to you.
Is there a desire to strengthen the relationship? If you can resolve the conflict, then what value will that have to the relationship?
What is your perspective vs. your (entrenched) position? A resolution process can be sabotaged if you are entrenched in your position. As a rule, it is not your point of view that is important, but your viewpoint. Perspective allows for objectivity and can allow you to address the ‘why’ of the situation. Position locks into the ‘what’ without knowing the ‘why.’
What is your own contribution? Conflict is rarely one-sided. Looking at how you contributed to the problem will help you to understand the full situation. It also tends to open up the other person’s ability to look at his or her contribution, especially if he or she sees you are open to looking at your contribution.
What are your assumptions about the other person? Asking yourself what you have assumed and why that assumption is important may reflect a bias toward the situation.
What could prevent you from listening openly? Use effective listening principles to listen to each other.
Appropriately guide other person through the process. If the other person has less skill or experience in resolving conflict, then it is the role of the more experienced individual to guide the less experienced person when engaging in conflict resolution.
Focus on the behavior, not the person. It is critical you focus on the behavior that was an issue and keep away from comments that could permanently damage a relationship. If you want the conflict to be resolved and want to solve a business problem, then your comments need to address the behavior and not the person.
Accept other’s comments without judgment and personal filtering. Have you ever listened and been thinking of your response while you were supposed to be listening? Personal filtering occurs when you are hearing the person’s comments, but you are relating the comments back to your experiences and processing the information based on your way of thinking. When you do this, you tend to lose touch with the other person’s feelings because you are focusing on your own thoughts.
Both perspectives understood and validated. Once each of you has listened and validated what you have heard from the other person (content and feelings), you can move to agreeing to the underlying issue.
Choosing the right medium
Traditionally, effective communication is experienced through words, sounds and body language. The medium you choose to resolve conflict is critical to success. The medium chosen to communicate to resolve conflicts can have different implications.
Written communication is by far the least desirable way to resolve conflict. The written word cannot relay sounds, emotions or body language, and no verbal dialogue occurs. It is highly recommended you do not use written communication to resolve a conflict. Conflict over email is not effective.
Phone communication is better than written communication, but visual communication and cues are lost. A significant number of questions must be asked to gauge the feelings and thoughts of the individual. If the relationship is not strong, it is a difficult medium to use for resolution.
Video conferencing allows some visual communication to occur and is a good substitute when you cannot meet in person. It is still difficult to communicate the raw emotion conveyed in a face-to-face situation. If the video conferencing technology is not excellent, the poor transmission quality can also be distracting.
In person is the best method to listen, communicate, resolve conflict and enhance a relationship because you can fully experience the situation. When considering the timeliness of resolving the conflict, you should also consider whether the conflict resolution could wait until it can be resolved in a face-to-face meeting. A difficult conflict has the best chance of a healthy resolution if it can wait for an in-person meeting.
The virtual office environment limits the most effective method; however, when in person is not feasible, our use of video conferencing technology is the most effective method.
Relationships are messy, conflict is necessary, timely resolution is essential for business health and technology is a powerful tool to ensure you are ‘clean’ with those you value.