By: Don Tyler
Handling conflicts between employees requires a very different approach because the source of conflict is almost always emotional, not logical. Let’s face it, if conflicts were logical then the people involved would go through a systematic process similar to the one already mentioned and come to a logical solution. Once resolved, there would be no hurt feelings, no bitterness, no sense of being left out or underappreciated, no twinge of unfairness. Just a logical conclusion that everyone understands and follows with no lingering after-effects.
Conflicts can have many underlying sources. Immaturity, poor personal skills, personality differences, low self-confidence, poor self-esteem, age differences, cultural differences, competition, personal biases, core value differences, attitudes and moodiness as well as a long list of others can be at the root of an individual’s tendency for conflict.
A Simple Process:
For the vast majority of conflicts a simple process can be utilized that allows the individuals to vent their emotions and be open to listening to real solutions that will get results. There are three steps to this V-I-P process:
V = Validate the emotions—When an employee comes to us with a complaint about another employee or a situation they are frustrated with, we let them talk and then say, “It sounds like you’re upset…” Hearing this, they will continue to vent because we told them that we hear their frustration and are willing to listen. Let them talk. Ask questions to get more information. Don’t make any judgments at this stage, and don’t take sides. The objective is to get information. The more you listen—especially at this stage—the more you control the process. Look past the emotions and listen very closely for the real source of the problem.
I = Identify with the conflict—We do this by saying, “I can see why you would be upset……” By saying this we show them that we relate to their emotions. This gives us the credibility that we need for them to listen to our advice, which comes later. Without these first two steps in the process we are treating their personal emotions like any other daily situation. They would go away with no sense of personal value or importance. If you master these two steps—the “V” and the “I” steps—you have all the information and credibility to offer a solution they will follow and respect. Without the emotions being vented, logic doesn’t stand a chance.
P = Problem Solve—Now you get to use your problem solving skills by saying, “I’m sure if we discuss this a little bit, we can find a solution.” Use all the information they have given you and talk through some options. All of your possible solutions should require some element of change on their part so that they are in control of the outcome. Some changes by others may be needed, but if your solutions only require someone else to change, the employee you are speaking with could become a chronic complainer because their complaints have no personal consequences.
When the problem is between two or more employees it is essential to individually speak with each person involved, one-on-one, so that you have their individual perspectives and concerns. Listening to only one of the people involved and developing a solution based on that information alone can be disastrous. Get their individual input, ask for their suggestions for a solution, get their consent to develop the best solution for everyone, and then have a group meeting where you discuss that solution. Keep the meeting short, focus mostly on the solution, and get their complete agreement to abide by the decision.
Throughout the process, coach employees on resolving their issues on their own as they arise. When employees feel free to let their coworker know when their actions, comments or mannerisms are inappropriate or counterproductive, they will develop a level of teamwork, camaraderie and cooperation that would otherwise not be possible.