I first used this employee conflict resolution process with two strong-willed, very-unhappy-with-each-other executives. I was nervous because they were so upset with each other, and there were big stakes for "getting through" the situation.
To my relief, this process worked. Whew... I've used it many times since, and I'm pleased to share it with you here.
Being able to communicate clearly, calmly and effectively when conflict, miscommunication and tension arises (and it will) is crucial to leadership success. Use this article, watch the video version here, for key communication skill builders and a step-by-step meeting process for resolving conflict with others and between team members.
Ben and Kevin were forced to work together when Ben was brought into the company as CEO and President. The Founder, Kevin was demoted from those roles and instructed to report to Ben. As if the situation was not bad enough, Ben and Kevin had completely different styles, backgrounds and values.
Ben the 'outsider' and new CEO, was crisp, professional and formal. He wore fine suits and a country club smile. He graduated from Harvard and Carnegie Mellon. Kevin, the demoted Founder, was the exact opposite. He dressed in jeans and blazers, and was proud of his West Georgia College degree and his his ability to navigate and win, in what he called, the 'real world of hard knocks.'
By the time I was brought in to help, Ben and Kevin were guarded and frustrated with each other. Their communication then turned into heated debates and arguments. In one meeting, they almost got into a fist fight! That's when they started ignoring each other.
When a potential investor agreed to add substantial money to the company that would help it grow one of his conditions was that Ben and Kevin find a way to work together. Ben and Kevin both agreed, for the good of the company, to try to resolve their disagreements and to try my employee conflict resolution process.
First, they each had to take personal responsibility for their actions and attitudes. They
had to be ready to move from blame and finger-pointing to solution
finding. The steps I share in the Employee Resolution Process helps
create that change from blame to solution-discussions.
The second focus area was to promote a better understanding of each person's individual strengths and blind spots. I met with each person individually and reviewed their TriMetrixHD Assessment results with them.
Use this process to manage peer to peer conflict and for facilitating conflict between employees. Click here to download the Employee Conflict Resolution Process Handout.
Prior to your in-person discussion with the two employees, privately
have each person think about and write down their responses to these
DISCUSSION GUIDELINES: Setting up and agreeing to a code of conduct or discussion guidelines ensures a more objective, less threatening exchange. (More on meeting guidelines, here.)
Step 1: The first TALKER Shares His View of the Problem
For example: Ben shared the exchange between the two of them bothered him the most. He shared why it bothered him and its impact. As he talked, Kevin's job was to listen and ask questions, only for clarification.
Step 2: The LISTENER Restates the Talker's View of the Problem
For example: Kevin restated what he thought he heard Ben say without adding his own commentary and without trying to defend or explain. The Listener's job is to simply summarize and reflect back the Talker's key points.
Step 3: The TALKER then Confirms Accuracy of What the Listener Shared
For example: Ben confirmed the areas of Kevin's restatements that were correct and addressed anything Kevin might have missed.
Step 4: BOTH Confirm Understanding and Agree on the Facts
Step 5: BOTH Discuss Solutions
By this time, most or all of the defensiveness about the situation has gone away, that's because steps 1, 2 & 3 ensure that the TALKER's view is clearly understood. It does not mean they need to agree - but because the TALKER' has been able to share his viewpoint, they can NOW begin productively discussing possible solutions.Click here for Reducing Resistance By Listening Aggressively resources
Step 6: BOTH: Agree on Next Steps Schedule a Date to Review Progress. WARNING: Don't skip this step. Scheduling a time for review will ensure that each person is accountable to the agreements made, increasing the possibility that real change in the relationship will take place.
Step 7: SWITCH ROLES: Go back to step 1, where the LISTENER becomes the TALKER, and vice versa.
Click here to download these steps:
Employee Conflict Resolution Process Handout.
I'm happy to report that Ben and Kevin were able to present a united front to their investors. Years later they both sold the company at a handsome profit. They even became friends!
I've used this process so many times. It works! Try it and you'll grow to trust it like I do.
Just follow the steps.
(Share your comments and questions below. Also, contact me for a complimentary phone consultation if you want to talk through this and/or your particular situation.)