You can’t solve conflict if you don’t know what the problem is.
Author: Patsy McLaughlin, MTI Master Trainer
You can’t solve conflict if you don’t know what the problem is. So many times I have seen managers attempt to solve conflict in the workplace but make a few mistakes in their approach. Typically, the first mistake is trying to solve the conflict by “telling” others what they need to do. For example, two managers are not agreeing on office space. The “boss” tells them to “be nice and work it out.” Both are angry and blaming each other. One of the managers has asked some of her team members to let her know when the other manager’s team members are talking too loudly in their cubicles and to keep track of any personal phone calls they make. This has created an environment in which the morale of both teams has begun to suffer. In their work environment, this is a problem because they depend on each other to take care of their customers.
Now the “boss” is getting frustrated and he decides to find out who is at fault. So what does he do? He begins questioning the team members to see what (or who) they think the problem is so he can decide how to solve this conflict between the two managers. So who is at fault here? The “boss.” Why the boss? He is going to others instead of the two managers, and he is assuming the responsibility of solving the conflict between them. The approach he should be taking is identifying what negative behaviors are occurring and how they are negatively impacting the business. In order to be effective, the “boss” needs to not be judging who is right or wrong, but he should state clearly and concisely to the two managers the business issue statement.
The business issue statement will have two distinct parts – specific behaviors that are creating a negative impact on the business and what that negative impact is. An example would be “The disagreement over shared office space is negatively impacting team morale and customer service. How the two of you solve it is up to you.” This is simple and concise with the expectation that the two of them will come up with an agreed upon, mutually satisfying solution. They need to know that their behaviors are creating a business problem because it affects the customers, the team members and the bottom line.
Had the “boss” been lucky, one of the managers would have seen that their dispute was having a negative effect on the team and business. In so doing, that manager could have presented an issue statement as well. In this case, let’s say that one of the managers approached the other and stated “The disagreements we have been having are negatively affecting team morale and customer service. Let’s work together to create some solutions that are mutually acceptable to both of us.”
In solving conflict, keep it simple. Who are the involved parties, what are the negative behaviors and what is the resulting problem? Let those who can change their own behaviors work out the solution. Try it! You’ll be relieved at how much easier conflict resolution can be.