You manage two individuals who are at odds with each other. They are each valuable to the organization, technically savvy and, for the most part, get along with everyone but each other.
You've tried the pep talk:
Come on, now, you can do this. Rise above it.
The appeal to compassion and empathy:
Try not to take things so personally; see things from their perspective.
The common sense approach:
Your work is suffering. Something has to change. You don't have to be best friends, but you do have to work together and get the job done.
You've also tried avoiding, ignoring, and wishing things would change. You've brought the topic up at performance reviews. You've talked to colleagues, coaches, and consultants.
In May, Ki Moments began a series, The Manager as Mediator, designed to help managers and leaders address organizational and personality conflict involving coworkers, management, and leadership teams. Designed as a coaching intervention, the 5-step model offers a step-by-step process for developing skills in yourself and the people you support.
Today, we focus on Step #3: Meet Individually First.
If you've tried getting everyone together in one meeting to talk it out, you may already know that this approach is often unhelpful and can make matters worse. Emotions run high and the problem escalates. This is especially true if the conflict has been going on for a while and is beginning to polarize the work environment. Instead, consider meeting with each person individually for one or more sessions.
Aikido and Conflict
I teach and practice Aikido, and use the principles of this martial art to build conflict and communication skills in organizational settings. If you watch Aikido closely, you’ll see it’s not fighting. The person receiving the attack doesn’t block or punch back. She aligns with the energy and redirects it, rendering the attack harmless while keeping herself and the opponent safe. Energy flows, is joined and guided toward a mutual win. A major shift happens when you start to think this way.
This is one of the more evolutionary pieces of Aikido and is also what the individual sessions are designed to do. They give you the opening to align with each party in the conflict and redirect their fighting energy toward a more useful purpose: resolving the conflict and becoming more intelligent socially, emotionally and relationally. This process turns fighters into leaders. Here's how the individual sessions set you up for success.
Listen and Validate
In the individual session, each person tells their story of how this conflict evolved and has impacted them and their work. Listen with objectivity, non-judgment, and curiosity. Acknowledge and ask questions for deeper understanding. Use your skills as an active listener.
- rebut or tell them what they're missing
- try to solve the problem
- give advice
- listen and validate
- stay curious
- acknowledge and reflect back their view (whether you agree or not)
- encourage them to get the whole story out
- look for what they are not saying
Useful questions at this stage:
- Can you give me some specifics about how this got started?
- How does this conflict impact the way you do your work?
- What part of this problem has been most challenging?
- What is the solution from your point of view?
- How have you contributed to the conflict?
Not useful at this stage:
- What if you tried doing things this way?
- Have you thought of apologizing?
- You're taking things too personally.
Optimism and Willingness
This is a good place to ask the questions offered in Step #2, as follows:
- On a scale of 1-10, how optimistic are you about resolving this conflict?
- On a scale of 1-10, what is your willingness to resolve the issues? What is your commitment to this process?
This is also a good stage for a behavior or conflict style inventory. Have each take one or more of the many instruments available to help them see their style, tendencies, trigger points, and -- in the case of a 360-degree instrument, how others experience them. Some examples are:
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®)
- The Conflict Dynamics Profile
- The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
- The DiSC Personality Assessment
Refrain from Solving
You will be unceasingly tempted to solve the problem. Try to stop yourself from doing this. Solving will come later and, ideally, the parties will do it themselves and together. Your first goal is to learn the conflict stories and sense the possibilities for resolution. Until they feel heard, they can't begin to think about changing. The more you listen, the more you offer each person the opportunity to see themselves, reflect on their actions, and ponder their contribution and willingness to move toward resolution.
With these individual sessions, you have created openings. Now, let's build some skills. Our next post on The Manager as Mediator--Step 4--will help you do just that: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills.