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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The best guide for Conflict Resolution (part 2)

In my last post, I mentioned how you should define boundaries. Now, lets look at defining the conflict

Defining the Conflict

Defining the problem or the conflict is important because it will influence what strategies you use to begin resolving the problem. Use active listening to uncover the underlying issue.

Remember, to be an active listener, you should think of the phrase, “What are you really saying?” So when someone is speaking to you, quickly evaluate the message for any ambiguous words, and any discrepancy between the words and nonverbal messages. Compare the verbal and nonverbal messages to see if you are receiving contradictory messages and to be sure you really understand the message.

Then reflect back the message, repeating what you just heard in your own words. The person you are speaking will either confirm your understanding, or, if there is a misunderstanding, should re-state her message.

If the people involved in the conflict are not using active listening, it is your responsibility as a leader to encourage it so that you can be sure there is mutual understanding. Practicing active listening will help decrease conflict in the workplace.

Get Specific

Defining the problem and getting as specific as possible about what is going on is important. If you are vague about what the conflict is, you won’t know how to begin resolving it or who to involve in the process.

Who is Responsible for the Problem?
After you define the problem, you need to determine to whom the problem belongs or who “owns” the problem. This will give you added information about how to solve it.

In the discussion with Carla above, there was a two-part strategy: uncovering the specific behavior that made her feel discriminated against and then finding out if the behavior was appropriate or inappropriate.

If the discussion uncovered that Martha’s behavior was appropriate and reasonable, the problem would be defined as Carla’s. As her supervisor, you would then want review the situation with Carla and discuss:

why Martha’s behavior is considered appropriate and how it contributes to the productivity of the unit;
how Carla’s own emotions may figure into her feelings of discrimination; and
what, if anything, could be done to help Carla feel more positive.
This process would facilitate closure on the process for both Carla and Martha.

However, if the behavior is inappropriate, it is Martha who is responsible for the conflict. And as the manager, you then need to find out if there are any policies or procedures – formal or informal – at your company that inadvertently led to Martha’s actions. Any time the problem stems from a company policy, the company is responsible for the problem as well.

If it appears that the problem is discrimination, you could see if Carla wants to begin a formal complaint process. This might involve meeting with Human Resources personnel or filing a formal statement. You could also suggest a meeting with everyone involved – including a company representative if you determine that the problem is due to a company policy – to try to devise a conflict resolution scenario that may eliminate the behavior without involving outside personnel

Only the employee who feels discriminated against can evaluate what action is appropriate for her particular problem. But, as a leader, it is your responsibility to answer any questions the employee has and to clarify all the options and possible consequences of each one. However, be careful about going any further because there may be potential consequences for you in a discrimination case.

Some organizations heavily stigmatize those who get involved in the complaint process. If you believe this to be true at your company, as her supervisor, you should help the employee understand that filing a formal complaint will be difficult and may compromise her position at the company. Even so, it may be the only way to reach a resolution.

I leave you with a thought: What would you do if you felt you were being harassed at work but you weren’t getting the support you’d expect from your boss?

Cheers for Success

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