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Conflict Resolution: The Fearless 6-Step Success Strategy

19 Jul 2017

Conflict Resolution: The Fearless 6-Step Success Strategy

Conflict Resolution is rarely easy – or simple

For successful conflict resolution, you need guts, tenacity, compassion and a willingness to see different viewpoints. Sometimes you also need a thick skin, resilience and good emotional intelligence. It’s very useful to have a proven strategy.

Conflict Resolution

The strategy, along with the other skills and personal traits can all be learnt.

This post contains a conflict resolution strategy. You’ll find other articles on the website which deal with those other traits. Use the search facility on the right to find them.

If you’re reading this post because there’s a potential problem brewing, please read this article first. If you’re involved in a situation that has gone way past being a problem or if more than one other person is involved, it’s time to invoke some serious intervention.

Before I give you an overview of the formula, here’s the scenario I’ll be using as an example. You might remember the previous article which you can find here. This is an example situation in which the original small issue was not addressed and has thus become worse.

Here’s the scenario I’ll use:

Four customers have complained to you that Margaret, who works for you as part your team, has been very off hand and blunt with said customers on the phone. One customer has just closed his account with the company because he’s had enough of the way Margaret’s been speaking to him.

In this article, I’ll use this example to demonstrate how  (and how NOT) to use each step, so you have a useful illustration of how it works.
It’’s important to understand that you can use this formula in any conflict situation; with partners, children, bosses, subordinates, colleagues. It’s the same formula.

Now let’s’ examine each step in the formula, apply it to this scenario and see what’’s involved:

Step 1. State the problem, factually and without emotion.

It’s important to keep emotion out of the discussion at the start. Usually, unrestrained emotion is hard to hear and to deal with, and tends to inflame the situation, further stressing relationships. So stick to the facts as you know them and avoid judgmental words. Take time out to calm yourself if you’re feeling emotional.

Example:

““I’’ve received four complaints from customers. They say that you were short with them on the telephone and that they find you difficult to deal with. One customer has now cancelled his account”.”

How NOT to implement step 1

““I’’m sick and tired of customers telling me how fed up they are of dealing with you. Four complaints today! One just cancelled his account because of you. What’’s wrong with you, woman! You’’re making my life hell! Why can’’t you just be nice to people!””

Key points for implementing step one:
  1. Make sure you’’re in a calm, resourceful state. (Try the Calm Spot)
  2. Write down what you want to say before tackling the issue. In this way, you can check that what you’ve written meets the criteria of being factual and unemotional.

Calm

Step 2. State how you FEEL about the problem.

At this point, you can describe your feelings and emotions. However, it’s important not to blame the other person for how you feel. You’’re the only one who can control you, so you must own your feelings and emotions. Again it can be useful to write these down.

Example:

““I feel frustrated and annoyed.” I’m all knotted up inside.”

Make sure you’re expressing real feelings and emotions and that you haven’’t just replaced the word ‘’think’’ for the word ‘‘feel’’. For example:

Not:

“I feel you’’re being ignorant and letting the side down.””

You can see that ‘’being ignorant’ and ‘letting the side down’’ aren’’t feelings at all, they’’re just judgements. As a general rule, if you can include the word ‘’that’’ after the word ‘feel’’ (as in the above example), and the sentence still makes sense, what you’’re describing are NOT feelings. Try it with the two sentences above, and I think you’’ll realise what I mean.

O.K. Let’s move on to step 3.

3. State the impact on you (short and long term)

In this step, you can talk about current mental, physical, emotional effects on you personally as well as the wider consequences. You can also state the longer term implications where those are applicable. Be careful not to blame the other person for these. So, using our previous case scenario, step 3 might look something like this:

““It’s affecting the whole business because it reflects on everyone in the company. I’’m worried that we’’ve lost a customer and could lose others. On top of this, we’re getting a bad reputation.””

Not:

““It’’s your fault we’’re losing customers. The company will be bankrupt at this rate!””

Step 4. Initiate Ideas for conflict resolution – invite other ideas – brainstorm

In this step, you may have some suggestions for how to fix the problem, which you can suggest. Don’’t be too pushy with your ideas for resolving it though. Invite other ideas or better still, brainstorm some solutions between you.

Using our example again, step four might look like this:

““Perhaps if you paused before you answer the phone or deal with a customer. That will give you a few seconds to change your focus from the paperwork to customer service. I’’m interested in what ideas you have.””

Not:

“”You need to change your attitude. If we don’’t have any customers – you don’’t have a job. Get the idea!”” Threats and sarcasm will not create productive, long term results – or resolve the conflict.

At this point, the other person will probably have something to say! She’ll probably want to put her side of the story; tell you what’’s really going on for her, or even put the blame somewhere else (back on you for example).

Be aware that you’re at a critical stage where a conflict can quickly escalate

Your reflective listening and rapport skills (see the previous article) are going to be extremely handy at this point!
So stay in rapport, listen and reflect back until the other person feels they’’ve said all they want to say and that you have heard. Avoid talking over the top of one another.

Brainstorming

Next, brainstorm some solutions that will meet both your needs – or if more than two people are involved – all your needs. When brainstorming it’’s useful to aim for quantity, not quality. Write down ALL ideas, preferably in a place where everyone can see them.

Do not judge or evaluate any of the ideas at this stage

By deciding how appropriate each suggestion is as you hear it, you limit the flow of ideas. People feel they can only suggest ‘good’ ideas and thus become inhibited in their thinking. So be objective and open-minded at this stage. Just keep generating possible solutions.

In my experience, some of the most seemingly ridiculous suggestions have triggered brilliant ideas that, once implemented achieved great success. But without the ridiculous suggestions, the ones that worked would not have been voiced. Aim to come up with at least 20 ideas.

Step 5 – Pick a solution that meets all needs

Sometimes a combination of solutions might work better than just one. Is/are the solution/s doable? It’’s important to meet everyone’s needs and outcomes and make sure no-one is disadvantaged. If you can’’t come up with solutions that satisfy everyone – go back to step 4 and brainstorm some more.

Step 6 –  Develop an Agreement

It’s time to check whether anything else needs to be done or said before you implement the solution(s) and restore the relationships. You could ask, “Is there anything else that needs to be said or done so we can resolve the matter completely now?”  Listen to responses and pay attention to anyone who doesn’t say anything. Keep a look out for incongruent body language and listen for incongruent voice tones.

If necessary ask everyone the question individually; the last thing you want is for someone not to speak up but then stir up trouble behind the scenes because they don’t feel heard or understood.

Some examples of what else might be needed to achieve a conflict resolution:
  • An apology.
  • Change of work flow.
  • Revision of policies or procedures.
  • Modification of job description.
  • More training.
  • Additional staff.
  • For you to change some aspect of your behaviour.
  • To listen to each other attentively.

You can double check by asking these questions: “”What else needs to happen for us to learn from this and put it behind us?”” And, “”How will these solutions ultimately resolve the issue to everyone’’s satisfaction?””

Put the agreed solution(s) in writing including any agreed-upon time frames

Ask everyone involved to check the documents’ accuracy and suggest any possible alterations within a specified timeframe. It’s important that everyone is comfortable and that the agreement reflects their understanding. So keep making adjustments until everyone is happy.

Agreement signing document

The agreement should also contain a review date so you can check in with each other to verify how the changes are working. It might also deal with how you propose to handle any situation or behaviour which seems to contradict your arrangement. Any conflict resolution should include a requirement to preserve relationships.

Seal the Deal

You can do this in a variety of ways depending on the situation and circumstances:

  • All sign the agreement.
  • Shake hands.
  • Hug (if appropriate).
  • All of the above.
Make sure to review the agreement as arranged
  • Check how things are going now.
  • Does anything else need to be done? If so, agree how this will happen.
  • Is there anything that we could improve?
A few words of caution

I mentioned in the previous article about it being a good idea to make notes for yourself; this will ensure that you are factual and objective and that what you want to say meets the criteria mentioned in these six steps.

It is inadvisable for you to email, text or post what you’’ve written to the other person.

When you speak to someone face-to-face you have three modes of receiving their message; the words, their tone of voice and their nonverbal language (including body language). Body language and tone make up a huge percentage of communication effectiveness.

When you send an email or text message, you rely solely on your words. The reader will put their spin on the tone of the email and imagine the body language based on the WORDS and probably their previous experience of and beliefs about you.

Secondly, if you EVER receive an email (or text) that you feel upset by – DO NOT REPLY BY EMAIL OR TEXT. Talk to the person. Ask them what their intention was in sending the correspondence. If you can’’t speak to the person face-to-face, call them up and ask. And if you don’’t feel comfortable doing this, ask someone else to go with you to support you or to act as a mediator.

A final word on conflict resolution

If you get stuck, you’re in New Zealand, and the conflict is employment based, you can contact Employment New Zealand. Go to the website and search for ‘Mediation’. More specifically you can get access to the mediation service for resolution of workplace or employment relationship problems. Anyone can do this – and at any stage of a conflict. You don’’t have to wait until a situation has gotten completely out of hand and everyone hates the sight of each other!

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If you would like to learn skills that will enable you to stay calm, listen effectively, ask good questions and resolve issues before they get out of hand, register for the next Power of Personal Change – Metamorphosis 101.

Summary: 6 Steps

Step 1. State the problem, factually and without emotion.

Step 2. State how you FEEL about the problem.

Step 3. State the impact on you (short and long term)

Step 4. Initiate Ideas for conflict resolution – invite other ideas – brainstorm

Step 5 – Pick a solution that meets all needs

Step 6 – Develop an Agreement

Previous articles about Conflict

How to prevent a potential conflict from turning to custard

The conflict of being conflict averse

9 glaringly obvious reasons conflicts are inevitable

Emails wars: The confusion, cost and casualties of miscommunication