How to resolve conflict, Part 2 of 3.

Remember Stanley and Jim? The superstars of the customer service department who hardly get along? Our poster models for latent conflict? Did these two discover how to resolve conflict?

Well, both are still at odds. But if we look closely, their conflict should’ve been something proper communication could easily fix. To recall, latent conflict is a type of conflict where bad feelings develop over time, creating a block to productivity and relationships. The causes vary. In this case, Stanley and Jim’s conflict frequently arose from personality differences. Stanley reminds you of a harsh schoolmarm, while Jim feels like the happy-go-lucky jock. While both get the job done, they rarely (if at all) agree on how customer problems are addressed.

What if both had the great opportunity to thrash things out? How would their conflict resolution look like?

Arriving at a win-win solution  resolving latent conflict takes a 4-step approach:












  1. Understanding the issues;
  2. Knowing what your objectives are;
  3. Discussing (and being open) to alternatives; and
  4. Agree on an action

How to resolve conflict by understanding the issues

The FIRST step (and usually the hardest) is understanding the issue because this step takes place in a meeting set for that purpose.   More often than not, disagreements arise only because both parties aren’t on the same page.  I can almost hear you say “How can I even set a date with someone hostile?!”  Regardless of your invite (email, SMS, written letter), set the tone by keeping it simple and non-threatening.  I don’t recommend disclosing too many details as this already brings up the issue before the conversation starts.  Instead, begin with “May we meet up to discuss the production schedule issue?”.  If the other person begins to ask questions, answer with “I know you might want to prepare, but if I open the conversation now, it may complicate things further.  I’d be happy to discuss all these with you and we can take all the time we need.”

When your dialogue begins, the first order of the day is to clarify the issue.  Find positive ways to open the discussion by breaking the ice and keeping things pleasant yet sincere.  Come to the meeting.  Have specifics, numbers, or even documents on hand.  Was there a particular instance that caused the issue?  Mention it now. Identify behaviors (what was said, what wasn’t said), then discuss the impact these actions caused.  This will help the person understand that you aren’t pulling issues out of the air.

How to resolve conflict by knowing your objectives

SECOND, know your objectives.  Set a vision.  You need to be distinct with your purpose. Do you want to resolve a business issue?  Improve a relationship? Make the office environment less threatening?  Be promoted?  Deliver faster response rates?  Communicating what you want helps both parties move from the past.  It also encourages both to have a positive mindset.

How to resolve conflict by discussing alternatives

THIRD, discuss alternatives.  Once the objective is clear, both parties can discuss how to get things done.  This is a crucial stage.  This is the part where you can elicit ideas on how to correct a situation.  It’s also a great opportunity for them to truly listen to what you have to say.  Here are some effective catchphrases:

  • What did you have in mind?
  • How are you going to do it?
  • How may I help you with this?
  • What can both of us do to prevent this in the future?

How to resolve conflict by agreeing on an action

LAST but not least, agree on an action.  You may resolve this issue now, decide to escalate it, or opt for more time.  Whatever the case, be very clear about who does what and when.

Agreeing, of course, is a long shot especially if emotions get the better of you.

In my years of teaching, I learned that numbers and facts aren’t the biggest issues in conflicts.  What gets on people’s nerves are emotions and feelings. Conflict always gives rise to a wide gamut of emotional and personal reactions.  We deal with a disparity in situations, personalities, power-differentials, and skills. For instance, differences in opinions may arise about performance between a team leader and his member.  Expectations may be subjective and may have not been made clear from the get-go.  This becomes even more sensitive where money and promotions are at stake.  Stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration can create a communication block.

Here are some strategies for handling negative emotions:

  • Always begin with positives: “The structure your team came up with is a solid one that works. However, __________________________”
  • Break the tension by being calm and truthful: “If I may be candid, I’m glad to be talking about this with you. I feel you are someone I trust to work this through with.”
  • Recognize the other person’s difficulties and challenges: “I can see that this is quite a challenge for you/your team. I hear that you are having difficulties with …”
  • Sit on the same side of the table. Sitting across raises a “barrier” and becomes a subconscious communication block.
  • Take responsibility for your part of the problem. “I see that I’ve contributed to this by being/doing/seeing/not doing …”
  • Apologize when necessary. “I’m sorry for unintentionally making such comments.”

How to resolve conflict by understanding the issues

Last but not least, LISTEN.  Give the other party time to explain their side.  The value of listening is rarely recognized. But this ability to receive and interpret messages is key to effective communication and conflict resolution.

Without this ability, messages (even those with good intentions) are easily misunderstood. Pay attention and listen to understand.  Don’t listen to rebut right away.  During the conversation, defer judgment and respond appropriately.  Often, when the other party realizes that he is being heard, he is most likely to defer judgment and respond positively as well.

(To be continued:  How to Resolve Conflict Part 3 of 3)

Care to dig deeper into this conversation about how to resolve conflict?

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

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