Blog Category: business

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Through 7 Simple Steps

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Through 7 Simple Steps
Resolving Conflict in the Workspace
Resolving Conflict in the Workspace

There was a heaviness to the air as the team members reluctantly plopped down for their weekly. The kind of heaviness that percolates from missed deadlines; radiating out through slumped shoulders, closed arms, and distant gazes. A heaviness that takes over a room as the obviously defeated team stares quietly into the abyss of failure.

“Good morning”, I half-state, half-ask, as my partner and I greet the reluctant team joining the table. Receiving in return some of those fake half-smiles.

“What the f*** happened?” I thought to myself.

The once energetic all-star team was silent. They hadn’t produced anything in weeks.

Whatever the problem, the results weren’t good. It needed intervention yesterday.

Does this meeting scenario feel familiar to you?

For me, these meetings come with the territory. For the past three years, I have mentored high school entrepreneurs in launching businesses; yep, high schoolers. And spoiler, teenagers sometimes don’t handle conflict or change well… And with my job, we can’t fire anyone.

Because of this I have seen extreme business conflict and have been forced to practice extreme conflict management.

Through painful meetings, angry stares, and palpable discontent, I have discovered a solution that can help right the leaning team ship. I wish I could say these were intentionally discovered methods. Really, it was out of desperation at grasping for straws with one of my senior teams. This team was once so fun to watch, and now they were failing, I was failing them.

Out of desperation, I threw a Hail Mary. The team was falling apart, the meetings were falling apart. What did I have to lose? I had a hunch; why not wing it?

“I want to try something,” I said as I looked around the table. “I think you are all way too nice to tell me what is happening. So here is what we are going to do; we are going to go around the room and I want each one of you to answer these three questions.”

“The three questions are,” as I made a number one with my right-hand index finger, “What does success for this team look like to you?”

After a dramatic pause, I slowly raised a second finger on my hand, “Where are you failing? Meaning, what is stopping you from reaching success? I only want facts, no gossip or name-calling.”

“Finally, three,” as I changed my fingers again, “how can YOU personally improve to get this project back on track?”

I then turned and beheld the most aggravated looking teenager, “Looks like you have something to say, why don’t you start?” I stated with a smile.

The meeting blew me away.

Over the next hour, we were able to unravel all sorts of issues. The meeting revealed that one team member was, in fact, bored, and felt underutilized. They were frustrated in their ability to communicate with the team. The leadership recognized they were micromanaging and not allowing everyone’s voice to be heard. In the end, they all agreed they wanted to get back to making video games and having fun while doing it.

Then word got out.

This team started to bond, and get back to basics, and with that word got out. I did not know what I did at the time but teenagers reached out for help.

Teenagers are not dumb, they know when they need help. They will reach out only if they feel the person has the tools to help. I believe is the same for employees as well.

Through more meetings, I have experimented with a system that works pretty well. It won’t solve all of your problems but it can help the team to get back on the right path.

A Step by Step Guide for Resolving Workplace Conflict.

Step 1: Set Ground Rules. Let them know everyone will have their turn to speak. State these rules with weight and a solid sturdy tone. Tell the team that you only want facts, not opinions; no bullying will be allowed.

Step 2: Provide the Questions and Thier Purpose. Provide the three questions and give a reason why you are asking these questions.

Question 1: What does success for this team look like to you?

The Reason: Conflict can arise when individuals have different motives. What is important to one team member can be meaningless to another. This first question helps the team finds common ground.

Question 2: Why are you failing?

The Reason: This question is intended to cut to the core of the conflict but while still framing the discussion on the team’s collective success. Steer the conversation towards team success; not the individual.

Question 3: How can you improve to get this project back on track?

The Reason: The third question bakes into a bit of personal fault. Members can always improve and this is the chance for individuals to take ownership in the team’s performance without being singled out or taking all responsibility. The improvement should be actionable, observable, and measurable.

Step 3: Actively Listen and Reflect. While the team is answering the questions, make and maintain warm eye contact. Verbally mirror what they share. You should use phrases like, “It seems like that…” or “Do you feel like that…?”

Summarize their thoughts back to them. Don’t add your own commentary.

At this stage, you should be focusing on acknowledgment. Let them know they have been heard but don’t solve their problems. Remember acknowledgment isn't agreement, there is a huge difference.

If your mirror is wrong, it is okay, they will correct you and probably be grateful you are trying to listen.

Step 4: Highlight Answers. Write keywords on a whiteboard or a piece of paper, so you can point out potential conflict or agreements in ideology later.

Step 5: Summarize. Point out the conflict you noted earlier; summarize the situation. For example, sometimes the conflict comes down to the goal. Multiple team members might be looking at the project with completely different intentions, one might be extremely passionate while the other is dreading their role.

You will probably notice of these common causes of group conflict start to emerge: uneven expectations, mismatched goals, miscommunication, lack of support, and burn-out.

Step 6: Give Next Steps. At this point, after you have pointed out the conflicts, or communication breakdowns (which there will always be), you can provide the next steps. These next steps are where you make your big bucks, I can’t give you answers for the next steps. The goal of all of this is just to get everyone in a state that is semi-receptive of the next steps.

Step 7: Send off with Positivity. After the next steps, transition and focus back on the agreements. There will probably be agreements that came out in the discussion, and if there isn’t I am sure there is a positivity you can hang your hat on.

Conclusion About Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

I am not an expert in conflict management, I have just been kicked in the teeth a few times.

Yet by doing what I outlined above, I have seen numerous tears shed before hearing, “I am sorry”. I have heard teenagers admit wrongdoing. I have seen students hug and smile.

If teenagers can do all that, so can your team.

Don’t expect complete and eternal conflict resolution. Be more focused on identifying the behavior within each teammate that causes the conflict. The more they can see it for themselves the more they will do the work to solve the conflict on their own. Seeing your students work collaboratively is the most rewarding feeling. It should be the same for you and your employees.