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resolve disputes in the workplace

How to Effectively Resolve Disputes at Work


Even as the United States starts to approach the post-lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no denying that stress levels are high, even in the workplace. If you've been experiencing some tension with coworkers or clients, it's best to try to effectively resolve the dispute rather than allow it to fester. Sandra Wiley of Boomer Consulting has some helpful tips to ensure a peaceful resolution and peace of mind for all.

Feb 26th 2021
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Whether you work from home or in an office, you spend hours of your week communicating and collaborating with your coworkers. So it's practically inevitable that tensions, conflicts and disagreements with coworkers will crop up from time to time.

Whether conflicts stem from miscommunication, clashing priorities or personality differences, it's important for your sake, your team members’ sake and the sake of the company that you resolve the issue professionally and courteously.

Here are a few practical strategies you can use to resolve disputes in the workplace.

Think and Plan Before You Engage

Before you engage, stop, think and plan. Think about the real problem you want to solve. Write it down, describing the situation you want to change. If the conflict has been brewing for some time, resist the urge to list every slight or infraction. Stick to the issue at hand. Often, the process of writing it out helps you get to what's underneath instead of simply getting emotional.

Don't just write down what's wrong. Write down what's working and what is good about the situation. Focusing on your relationship's positive aspects ensures you keep a balanced view of the relationship rather than getting carried away focusing on the negative.

If it's your responsibility to coach the other person to improve, take some time to consider what specific changes have to happen for the issue to get better or go away. What would be your dream action steps? Have that in your head before you schedule your meeting.

If your firm uses personality assessments like DiSC or Kolbe, refresh yourself on how the other person handles conflict. Those profiles are there to educate you on how best to work with other people, so use them to help you plan the conversation.

Get in the Right Mindset

Often, one of the most difficult aspects of resolving a dispute is gathering the courage to have that first conversation. So take some time to prepare mentally. Try to frame it in your mind as a positive, constructive conversation rather than a confrontation.

Recently, I coached an HR professional who needed to have a tough conversation with one of the firm's partners. Although she was a part of the firm's executive team, she'd previously approached the situation as if he were the boss and she was the subordinate, and her concerns had been dismissed.

She needed to reframe the conversation to approach it as if she was on the same level as him – because she was. When she approached the conversation calmly and confidently, he listened and they had a productive conversation.

Timing is Everything

We tend to schedule difficult conversations for a time when it's best for us. But to get the best results from this kind of meeting, schedule it at the best time for the other person. For example, if they're a morning person, make it an A.M. meeting. Make sure you block off plenty of time so you can both express where you're coming from.

Remember, these conversations are best in person, but if that is not possible, video conferencing will work as well. Text, phone call, email or any other communication form where you can't see each other's faces, read their body language and hear their tone of voice are not ideal.

Have the Conversation

Once you get to your conversation, walk through the notes you prepared to discuss what is and isn't working. Start with a positive focus to remind you both that you're on the same team, even if you don't see eye to eye on a particular issue.

Remember not to talk at the other person. Listen twice as much as you talk so you can really understand where they're coming from. Don't interrupt the other person when they're talking. After they finish speaking, rephrase what they said to ensure you understand it and ask questions to clarify your understanding. Sometimes, the conflict will resolve itself simply because you seek to understand the other person.  

While part of your planning involved coming up with your ideal action steps, collaborate with the other person to come up with a solution that works for both of you. When you work together to come to actions both of you can agree on, you're more likely to get their buy-in on the next steps.

Schedule a Follow-Up Meeting

Once you've agreed on a plan of action, don't let that be the end of the conversation. Schedule a time for a follow-up meeting a few weeks later. This allows you to ensure both of you are accountable for following through with your plan or tweak it if things aren't working out.

When you do make progress, congratulate each other. Even if it's just a small improvement, celebrating the small wins can help you build on your success.

If All Else Fails . . .

In an ideal world, you have a productive conversation and everyone does their part to move forward. But of course, we don't live in an ideal world. Sometimes, even two people with the best intentions have trouble finding common ground. If you can't meet in the middle, bring in a third party to facilitate the conversation.

The third party can be a manager, partner, HR expert or an outside facilitator. Select someone you both respect and empower them to help you reach a better resolution, so the outcome is best for the firm – not one individual or the other.

Whenever people are engaged and committed, conflict and disagreement are bound to happen. Dealing with that conflict can be intimidating and unpleasant, but it's necessary. Remember to focus on the relationship. Conflict isn't about the situation but about the personalities, motivations and rationales of human beings. Keep preserving a healthy working relationship high on your list of priorities, and the rest will work itself out.

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