Managers, HR staff, and executives who mediate conflict between other employees often fail to reach a lasting resolution with the individuals in dispute. Why? After all, conflict resolution isn’t rocket science, right? Right. I tell people that all the time; however, it is it a skill and having a command of certain fundamentals can have a big impact on effectiveness.
There are two fundamentals that people often overlook:
First, people fail to devote sufficient time to the resolution process for the participants to reach a breakthrough.
Most people have busy workdays and it is a challenge to carve out two or three hours, or more if necessary, to address a nagging office conflict. It’s hard to get people to sit down without their devices buzzing and ringing and without other interruptions to devote their attention to the conflict at hand. Conflict resolution is a process with identifiable stages through which individuals typically progress. The length of time it will take to get through the stages will differ with each conflict. Many people short circuit the process because they haven’t scheduled enough time for the process to run its course.
Second, the person serving as the third party neutral does not prepare an issue statement prior to the resolution session.
An issue statement is critical to defining the business problem that has been created by the conflict. Without a focused issue statement, the parties are not likely to have sufficiently directed focus to resolve an issue. We’ve all done it at some point-we begin a conflict resolution conversaiton with a partner, friend, or family member to discuss X, and before we know it, we’ve also thrown in Y and Z. A concise but complete issue statement will help the parties focus on the issues that require resolution.
Research shows that the common denominator in successful conflict resolution is formal training; but, most managers, HR professionals, and executives who are expected to mediate conflicts at work do not receive training in workplace conflict resolution.
Some organizations experience minimal conflict and adopting a simple process to trigger a conflict conversation is sufficient to get parties to engage and resolve conflict. Other organizations, however, experience more conflict and require a structured process and managers who are trained in conflict resolution. If retaining top talent is important to you and if organizational culture is important to your organization, and it should be, part of creating a great culture is addressing conflict effectively.