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Got Spats?

“Got Spats?”

Learn to manage your workplace wars so your company wins.

Some conflict in the workplace is productive, if managed well. But if you’re spending too much time trying to contain outbursts and soothe hurt feelings, especially those based on personality clashes instead of business issues, then you need to convert your team’s hawks into doves.

Entrepreneurs often find that conflict directly correlates with rapid change. Fast-growth organizations find themselves prone to more ambiguity and uncertainty than older, more stable businesses. Uncertainty sparks fear, which can drive conflict even more than anger or frustration.

Try this four-step process:

  1. Broach the topic. Approach dueling employees separately and suggest that they get together to discuss the issue. You might say, "I’m aware this conflict is growing. Let’s all talk about it." Get each participant to engage in calm conversation rather than argue and force you to play referee.

    Avoid pointing fingers. Label the topic of discussion in nonblaming, neutral terms. Instead of saying, "I’m aware that you’re fed up with Bill’s nastiness and impatience," stick to neutral language such as, "I’m aware of tension between you and Bill."

  2. Set the stage. Choose a time and place for the meeting, where everyone can speak freely without interruptions. Reserve a conference room where you can close the doors, unplug the phones and eliminate other distractions. Create an environment that’s conducive to having a sustained dialogue — no beepers, no hand-held computers.
  3. Pounce on peace offerings. Within even the most heated arguments, conciliatory comments almost always arise. Listen for any hint of an apology or recognition of an adversary’s point of view. Then prompt the speaker to elaborate on such remarks by asking, "Can you tell me more about that?" or "What else can you add to that?"
  4. Forge a bond. Encourage warring parties to make a "peace agreement" by the end of their conversation. Rather than extracting vague promises to "get along," ask the participants to identify specific problem-solving behaviors they will adopt.

    For instance, warring parties may agree to listen rather than interrupt, confirm facts before jumping to conclusions and paraphrase what the other person says to avoid misunderstandings.

One caveat: Don’t let personal judgments cloud your ability to resolve conflicts. If you’re convinced one person is right and the other is wrong, rushing to inject your opinion may lead to accusations that you’re picking sides or playing favorites.

Reaching an amicable solution: Don’t just use your authority as the boss to judge. Present inarguable evidence that supports your findings. Facts alone should drive your judgment.

Writer: Morey Stettner interviewed Daniel Dana, president of the Dana Mediation Institute located in Overland Park, Kan.