How To Settle A Fight With A ?
Conflict is inevitable in an organization. It will occur despite alignment, loyalty, clear goals–so long as human beings are involved! One might even have that eventuality if you work by yourself, but your self-arguments probably need a different process for an internal conflict as opposed to an external one (but the same questions are often valid if you don’t lie to yourself). There are three aspects to professional conflict that provide the diagnostics for conflict resolution, they are: 1) Organization Objectives, 2) Individual’s self-image and self-expression and, 3) Process for Resolving Conflicts.
We can break down each of those three keys but there is also a technique that is highly effective and can be utilized to flesh out and add clarity to the conflict in each of those keys. Conflict is measured by the variance in belief over a better course of action plus the emotion surrounding it. If you were paying me for this advice I’d break out a handy consultant’s 4-part grid to help plot the impact and emotion of the conflict. But, as a leader, we often mistakenly believe that our job is to settle conflicts with decisions as a parent might rule between two children fighting over a toy. (Which usually ends with at least one upset if not both.)
One major caveat in this technique is the assumption that the conflict does not revolve over legality, morality or ethics. In those instances it is the leader’s responsibility to apply the high ground, however, many conflicts arise over grey areas; stretching the criteria and in that case the question mark technique can be equally effective. So, what is the Question Mark Technique?
Ironically, in sales training we use leading questions and reversing techniques with the intention to move people from the intellectual to the emotional, in that space you find commitment to fix or change commensurate to how emotionally significant the pain or the opportunity. In conflict resolution the opposite result is the goal but the technique is very similar. That is because there is generally an emotional element present, sometimes equally between parties sometimes not.
First question… This question is for you, ask yourself how significant is the resolution of the issue and should you intervene or if it involves you, is it worth it to pick a direction? While the former is based on goals, objectives and obstacles the later may become less for you to intervene if you teach this resolution technique by example. When staff says, “you know what our boss will say…” you’ve done a good job of having a process.
Next question…Range the danger, highlight the high point. By asking what the best and worse outcomes is possible, and then asking for a risk assessment for either extreme you stay detached from the answer but bring forth risk perspective to the conflict. Here, culture may play a part so ask if you’ve succeeded with this type of risk profile in the past. Whether your culture is risk averse or risk embracing will give guidance to steer the decision and makes little difference if you are refereeing or arguing your own point.
Follow up question…How did you come to your position? Very often a debate or conflict erupts from a desired action and anticipated outcome without much history to how a person got there. By having that laid out you can assess whether the experience sequence is valid or whether there may be gaps that weaken the position. If it’s your position then the same sharing of perspectives may inform your argument and possibly change your perspective.
Final question…How strongly do you feel about this? Followed by: How will you take it if the decision goes the other way? Knowing how much emotional stake is in play lets you understand the impact the resolution will have. It doesn’t have to change your decision or perspective but you need to understand how losing a position or proposal or suggestion will sit. Is it personal with the parties, is there desperation to have a win? All those kinds of complications can surround conflict without being obvious or presented. Making the emotional reality visible is a great way to defuse the emotion around the final decision.
These conflict resolution examples are both from a leader “settling” a conflict between others in a direct conflict. When a few minutes discussion or further analysis or research fails to persuade the conflict you stop arguing for your position and ask the above questions directly to arguing parties or to your adversary on the issue. Understanding how important they feel the issue us, ranging the risk/opportunity and understanding how the other person(s) came to their perspective affords you the ultimate perspective question: What do you think I/we should do to resolve this? When people in conflict participate in the resolution the chances of both making a good decision and having all involved feel okay with it, win or lose, you defuse the chances for lingering anger or resentment and that’s the big win.
In any conflict the final act of a leader, whether judging a conflict or participating in one, is to thank the participant(s) for their input and express the value you see in their sharing opposing perspectives to come to the best perspective. Avoid any absolute here because sometimes the best laid arguments still don’t turn out to be right and a higher risk position, for example, may have yielded a higher reward. Your goal is to eliminate conflict resolution by the loudest voices, the favorite sun or a position designation. Even favoring a worker over the manager doesn’t have to usurp authority or hurt feelings. By expressing appreciation for the opposition or by pointing out that, “We’ll see, it could turn out there was a better course.” You detach the emotion from the decision, allow conflicting parties to maintain their self-esteem and learn more about how decisions are presented, made and the perspective from which they come. That’s a winning argument formula.
Tom Fox writes on sales, leadership, business skills and other professional topics at www.myeurekasolutions.com/thoughts. Follow him at @TomFoxTrainer or on LinkedIn.
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