In last month’s article, we discussed the fact that conflict occurs from three general categories of issues: resources, needs, and values. Building the blocks of agreements can be tremendously impacted by the choices we make in “talking it out”. The six choices available are verbal brawling, debate, discussion, negotiation, counseling, and dialogue. It can also be impacted by the “strategies” we use for managing the dispute which we will review in this month’s article.
In a workplace dispute, for example, behaviors that interfere or appear to interfere with getting interests and needs met are usually the genesis of most conflict. The skill we need in the business world is the willingness and ability to look for ways to achieve some of everyone’s interests, so a resolution that everyone can support can be found. Some of those interests may be:
• Security: Having a job
• Acceptance: Relationships with co-workers and supervisors
• Respect: Acknowledgment of contributions; or fair treatment
• Personal Fulfillment: The job is meaningful/useful/part of a bigger picture
• Choices: The ability to give input that affects the job
• Competence: The ability to do the job successfully

The best approach for managing conflict varies with the context, timing, and balance among the parties. So the first step in these situations is to choose the more successful form of “talking it out” (see Nov 15 article) after evaluating the situation. To assist further there is the idea of using the correct strategy for managing the dispute. There are many strategies that are promoted; however, they basically fall into the following three step process : 1) Non-reactive; 2) Disarming, and 3) Participatory.

NON REACTIVE: The old adage “haste makes waste” has more truth in it that we sometimes realize. The foundation of this step is to be patient and to take your time to evaluate all the information. Depending on the type of dispute and who is involved (between a team, or two individuals, or an entire department), it is best to analyze the issues from all perspectives. You could involve the team members in this part as well. The main point is to remain neutral, to understand the issues at involved, and to avoid making any quick decisions on how to proceed.

DISARMING: The next step is to acknowledge the conflict to the parties involved, and to actively listen to their issues and feedback individually. Focus on the problem and not the individuals and try to avoid your own preconceived attitudes about the individuals or the situation. Before conducting a formal meeting between the parties it is important to have them agree to a few meeting guidelines. Ask them to express themselves calmly—as unemotional as possible, and to agree to understand each other’s perspectives. Let them know that if they violate the guidelines the meeting will come to an end.

PARTICIPATORY: The final step involves the interaction of the parties involved. The ultimate goal of dispute resolution is to have the parties resolve the issue between themselves. If they are an active participant to a resolution then they are more likely to uphold their agreements. So you want to facilitate open communication by allowing both parties to express their viewpoints. Your position here is to help them pinpoint the real issue causing the conflict. The goal is to find a creative solution that is acceptable to everyone. It is an effort that involves collaboration and compromise to reach an effective resolution. It also involves the skill of active listening on the part of everyone participating. The parties restate points made by others to demonstrate understanding. They pay full attention to the speaker and resist the temptation to conduct side conversations. They show respect for other people’s views by not interrupting. The success of coming to an agreement can be very rewarding for all parties involved.

Hopefully, you may now have a better understanding of how to approach resolving conflict that you can apply in the workplace, with your customers, with your vendors… with any relationship…because the reality is: Business is all about relationships!

About Your Columnist

Michelle Burkart is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers negotiation and conflict resolution. Currently, Michelle is the owner of TH!NKresolution, where she is a credentialed mediator; Hearing Officer for the San Diego Housing Commission; Member of the San Diego Superior Court Mediation panel as well as the NCRC Commercial Mediation Panel. Michelle manages and conducts business mediation services for TH!NKresolution to include pre-contract facilitation, contract disputes, personnel issues, conflict coaching and training, family business disputes, government agency disputes, and caregiver mediation.

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