Conflict is inevitable.
85% of employees say they experience conflict on the job. Even though there is no line item for it on your income statement, conflict is expensive. Managers say they spend 40 – 60% of their time dealing with conflict of some sort!
Fortunately, the negative impact of conflict can be minimized with preventative training and post-incident interventions.
This article will focus on the 9-step Terminating Turf Wars™ process which must happen in order to resolve a major conflict that has erupted.
1. Set your desired outcome
The desired outcome will vary depending on the situation and the players. It may be a specific decision that all partied agree to support.
It may be the ‘fact’ that the groups agree to any decision (e.g. a now unknown, negotiated decision) and move forward. It may be new behaviors that must be adopted by the people involved. Without such clarity as a starting point, subsequent conversations could go off in counter-productive directions.
2. Communicate the importance of reaching a resolution
This is where the executive in charge must take a stand and tell the warring parties that they must end the war and come up with a solution. Sometimes executives stay out of the fracas and ‘allow’ the parties to duke it out themselves. This is a dangerous practice however as it could likely take much longer to resolve, further wasting precious resources (energy and time) that could be put to more productive use.
3. Identify key players
In any war, there are a handful of people who are at the core of the issue. They are likely the ones who are keeping the conflict in place and are also the ones who will likely be directly involved in the resolution of the issue. Their input, therefore, is critical. Private conversations with each of them will shed light on the history, impact, import and obstacles to solving the problem.
4. Survey and interview
Other parties may have a less involved role but their input is critical none the less. They may be able to provide some much-needed objectivity that the key waring parties can’t see. Their perspective of the far-ranging impact of the key issues and how they are hampering day-to-day operations, may bring some additional motivation to get the issue resolved. When the key stakeholders to the conflict see how their behavior is impacting others, they may soften their positions. Anonymous surveys are great ways to get issues on the table in a more objective manner.
5. Assess data
Once the interviews and surveys are complete, they need to be compiled and analyzed by a third party, preferably one who is far outside the reach of the issues. Objectivity in this assessment process is critical, lest the parties will dismiss the data as tainted.
6. Articulate the issues
Data will point out major beliefs, trends and impacts of the issues. Sharing the results of the interviews and surveys with the group provides a great starting point for conversations about the key issues, how people feel about them and why it’s critical for the issues to get solved NOW!
7. Design an intervention
Once the data is available, a skilled facilitator will be able to design the appropriate kinds of conversations that will help the people or groups talk with each other in a constructive manner. Depending on the source of the conflict, the focus of the intervention may be on understanding personality styles, establishing communication or decision-making procedures or revamping broken processes.
8. Facilitate conversations
Designing the topics of conversations is one thing. Actually facilitating them is quite another. When tempers have flared and accusations been made, it’s often difficult for the people embroiled in the conflict to talk with each other civilly.
In one difficult situation I helped resolve, the content of the first meeting was all about creating safety for people to air their concerns. Conversations in that meeting were frequently ‘paused’ to analyze the tone and tenor of the dialog and note how that tone facilitated or impeded forward progress.
At some point, if managed well, the group will come up with a solution they can live with. It may take time. It may take removing some players, shifting roles, revising strategies, creating new procedures, learning and practicing new behaviors or adopting new rules for future decision-making. It is at this point that the executive direction really kicks in. People are often loathe to make changes in their processes or communication styles. When the top boss however says, ‘this shall be’, they will be more likely to comply.
9. Monitor and fortify the truce
Truces are delicate things. They may represent the best thinking of the entire group. They may have opened new possibilities for the company. However, people are creatures of habit and could default to their old behaviors. Periodic meetings to assess progress and work through challenges will help turn the truce into a new world order.
These 9 steps are simple. Implementing them can be tricky but will expert guidance, sufficient motivation, personal commitment and collaboration, sweeping changes can be made.