Companion Channel Episodes Leadership

Master Conflicts

Welcome back to our companion channel! Today we will talk about conflicts.
We all have them. We all dislike them since conflicts are time- and energy-intensive. So, let´s have a look at a well-proven tool for mastering conflicts constructively – and early.

It has 6 steps. You can follow this 6-step-model alone as well as together with a facilitator or mediator to navigate through the conflict.

Before you start make sure, that there is enough time. Of course, the necessary time budget depends on the specific conflict, but at least 1 hour is a good guess to start with. You might want to agree on conversation rules first such as: Let the other party finish talking, talking from one own’s perspective and so on.

Conflict resolution starts with the acceptance that there is a conflict. May sound trivial, but it is so important to not forget this – which we typically do in practice.

In step one everyone is asked to describe the situation from his point of view and the resulting (negative) effects for him (and the team, if applicable) without interruption. As a facilitator you can ask, if something is unclear, and summarize main points on a flipchart. Be careful not to allow a discussion to start at this point. Make sure both parties listen to each other and agree that there is a conflict. Sometimes one party has a conflict and the other does not even notice that there is an issue.

In step 2 we ensure the willingness of both parties to contribute to a solution. Are both parties really willing to solve the conflict? Do both agree to keep the communication open? Encourage both parties to go for careful listening to understand the different viewpoints.

Again, we are building the foundation for a constructive conflict resolution with these first two steps.

But, what if one party is not willing to contribute? We suggest to give this person the chance to reflect again for a day or two and continue the conversation after this break. And then, in case this person is still not willing to contribute to a solution, then we strongly recommend to stop the dialogue at this point and – unfortunately – escalate.

Because anything else would be a waste of time.

Practice is very different though: We nevertheless try to force an agreement and wonder that the person who didn’t really want to cooperate is going to break the agreement after a short time already.

Then, in step 3 and 4 we want to understand the conflict.

Dealing with conflicts is like dealing with needs that are covered behind arguments. Key to solve a conflict is uncovering the needs of each party. Needs can be for example safety, freedom, harmony, silence, inspiration, learning, authenticity, not losing the face, etc., etc.

In step 3 we want to evaluate:

  • What is really important for each party?
  • Why is it important?
  • Why do they need XYZ?
  • What exactly bothers them?
  • Which needs underly each parties’ position?
  • What would they do if there wasn’t this conflict and why would it be good for them?

By answering these questions, we step by step get to the real core of the conflict! Mastering conflicts without understanding the real needs of both sides is close to impossible.

In step 4 you compare the needs of both parties which you have now thoroughly detected and defined. Key questions are:

  • What do they have in common?
  • Is there something both parties want?
  • Is there a common denominator?
  • Is this common denominator big and substantial enough?
  • Also: What are our differences? Write them also down.
  • Which differences can we live with? And which ones are difficult or impossible to accept?

It might turn out that the differences are too big. In this case, again, the conflict cannot be solved with the parties involved and they have to escalate.

In step 5 and 6 you want to find and agree on a solution.

In step 5 we collect suggestions:

  • Which options are possible?
  • Who can contribute what to solve the conflict?
  • What do you expect from the other party?
  • Which options are realistic?

Our experience clearly shows: if you have thoroughly worked through step 1 to 4 (and if you have overcome the two main braking points (step 2 willingness and step 4 a big enough common ground), it is relatively easy to work out an agreement. In practice, many leaders – if they tackle a conflict at all – start so to speak with step #5. And they wonder that they fail!

We then come to an agreement in step 6:

  • What can the parties agree on?
  • What does everyone need from the other person to go for the agreed solution?
  • What does each party need to agree on a solution?
  • Who contributes what by putting the solution into practice?
  • And, last but not least, when do you meet next time to check the status? Is the facilitator still needed or do we go on our own?

By following these 6 steps and by practicing quite a bit, you will discover and remove the fundamental misunderstanding with regard to conflicts: To tackle and master a conflict, does not burden or jeopardize the working relationship. It´s the exact opposite: your relationships get stronger and more resilient.

See you next week in our companion channel!

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