November 13, 2017

Simple steps to improve workplace conflict resolution

The Conflict Resolution Phrasebook: 2,000+ Phrases for Any HR Professional, Manager, Business Owner, or Anyone Who Has to Deal with Difficult Workplace Situations" by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem (Career Press, $14.99).

All of us have encountered situations where we miscommunicated, misunderstood what was said, let biases affect our responses, etc. The author's list of phrases and sentences aim to address our communications faux pas. Here are some highlights from two closely related chapters (1 and 6):

Chapter 1 — "What's the problem?" Before dealing with this prickly issue, answer this question: "What do you think will happen if we don't deal with this?" Realizing that a less-than-optimal outcome will result from non-resolution makes you think how to engage someone in a conversation that doesn't become defensive or argumentative.

Open with an "I value your input" lead like: "I'd like to share an issue and get your opinion." As they speak, don't interrupt. An "If I understand you correctly … " response moves the conversation into other comments (i.e. I see your perspective.) about common ground (i.e. We can agree that … ) and facts versus opinions (i.e. Do we have the information we need?).

Chapter 6 — "Don't draw a line in the sand." When positions are front and center in a conflict, mutual interests go unidentified as defending the position becomes paramount. Try this instead, "This is a tough situation, but we are creative people. Let's work together to find a solution." This type of response defuses and diffuses the "position" by indicating a willingness to explore options and find common ground.

This leads to a conversation centered around "What might have we missed?" and "How could we approach the problem differently?" Note the emphasis on we.

A quote from the movie "Cool Hand Luke" sums up issues with dealing with conflict: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

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