Conflict is a time consuming and costly problem that can have a severe impact on companies including the bottom line if not paid attention to. This is especially true in outward inward communications that are vital, like in marketing to manufacturing departments in true engineering environments where value, time and needs are interpreted very differently. Workplace relationship problems normally arise because of clashing personalities, miscommunication, perceived backbiting or a perception of hidden agendas. However, one of the toughest aspects of leadership is the ability to deal with people issues. Tensions and misunderstandings are normal and inevitable; if left unresolved, they result in hostility, stress and wasted resources.
Pointers for finding a workable solution:
▶ Once you are aware of a relationship problem, call a meeting with the people concerned, and define the situation as factually and simple as possible. Ensure that there is no judgment or emotion on your part. Also, ideally you should avoid defining the situation as a ‘bad relationship’ between the people concerned. Furthermore, avoid the ‘this is absolute nonsense’ approach.
▶ Confront the possible negative issues in the relationship. Find out the problems and constraints the two people involved are dealing with. Let them list their problems, all the time emphasizing that you are talking about ‘possible’ negatives. For instance, one party may feel that the other does not greet him each morning, but this may be merely a perception. Remember that people are scared of conflict in general and do not know how to handle it.
▶ Encourage both people to look at the possible positive sides to their relationship. People have a tendency to treat perceptions as reality. Try to persuade both of them to identify the constructive aspects of their daily dealings with one another. By discussing the positives, you now move a few steps closer to finding out what they are looking for from the relationship.
▶ Once you have looked at various options, you can start looking at generating and then integrating positive aspirations in order to begin creating motivation on their part. Ask them what they are ideally looking for in the relationship. Once they have articulated this, ask them why. In this way, it
becomes clear what both parties want from the relationship.
▶ Now you can generate directions (strategies) in order to achieve the listed aspirations. List your combined plans, actions, objectives and supporting goals. Go back and address the negatives now that you know what the two people want. Encourage them to distinguish between real and perceived negatives. Move them from the attitude of ‘you never listen to me’ to ‘I know you do listen to me sometimes’. Put directions in place to address those attitudes. Help them to focus on the positives and commit to them.
▶ Set up a supporting structure (resources, system) to accomplish the aspirations and selected directions. Without this structure, no idea can move forward. This may simply be a regular scheduled meeting to follow up on actions and a mutual trusted neutral friend to intervene communications.
▶ Measure the cost of non-compliance (adherence). This means ensuring that they are aware of the cost of not following the solution/s (direction and structure) to the problem, and consequently doing whatever is necessary to get the ship back on course. Ask them what course of action would be
necessary should these cost factors arise. What would be the impact on the company if the current discussion does not solve any of the issues? Talk about negativity, loss of productivity, and the possible impact on the company, if they do not resolve their dispute.
They must own the possible positive outcome as well as the possible negative outcome, so let them do most of the talking.
▶ Decide when and how you are going to evaluate and re-evaluate the decisions taken and the progress that may or may not have been made. Hold them accountable!
▶ Summarize your discussions up to this point. Reiterate the positive aspirations. Remind both parties what it is that they want, and what the company is expecting from them. In other words ensure that you end off on a positive note. The ability to manage conflict is a critical skill at the workplace and has been identified as a core competency for managers and leaders at all levels.