Those famous 4 words that most people dread….

“We Need to Talk…”

Conflict in workplaces is common. Differences of opinion and seeing things differently are common. When people come together these differences of opinion which can lead to conflict and sometimes the only way to resolve this conflict is to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation.

In my experience as an HR consultant, unfortunately in many cases, those in conflict prefer to avoid bringing up any abrasive topics in person and resort to sending an email, communicating ‘through the grapevine’, or at worst, avoid it all together. Modern technology makes it easier communicate without physically speaking to people but this can lead to miscommunications and an element of dehumanisation.

For employees, the prospect of face-to-face confrontations can raise many feelings and emotions including feeling threatened, disempowered and somewhat frightened. Nobody really wants to hear the words, “We need to talk…”, but as a leader, if you are prepared and aware, a little chat can have big results!

Here are 10 ways to approach face-to-face conflict resolution and give yourself the best chance of achieving a great outcome.

1) Remain Calm

In any difficult situation it is recommended to stay calm and in control which can often be easier said than done. Before entering the meeting it can help to be aware of your breathing and levels of physical and mental tension, and try to relax and feel at ease. When the body and mind are in a calm state, your tone and body language should follow, and this should make the other person feel calmer and more receptive too.

2) Be Respectful

When opinions and beliefs are formed they are a culmination of one’s absolutely unique lifetime experiences. As we all have different experiences it is very likely that opinions will differ between people. There is also a tendency for people to think that they are right and, either directly or indirectly, that the other person is wrong. It is important to respect the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (no matter how ridiculous you may think it is) and if you show them respect it is more likely that you will also be treated with respect. Words like “I understand what you are saying to me, however, it still may not lead to a solution….” might be a good start.

3) Listen

If people speak they inherently want to be heard and understood and this is paramount in conflict resolution. By showing the other person you are listening, you can improve the rapport and in the end you will be better able to find a solution. Active listening involves giving the other person time to talk, letting them finish what they have to say and then checking that you are understanding their statements by repeating a summary back to them. It’s worthwhile waiting until you feel that you understand the complete picture rather than trying to offer a solution too soon.

4) Become the Mediator

If you take the position of a third party looking at both sides of the situation, and with an objective view, the other person is less likely to feel that they are being personally attacked. A good strategy is to focus on the role or the action and the ramifications, rather than focusing directly on the person and their behaviour.

5) Take Responsibility

If you blame a person for something they did then it’s likely that it won’t be well received but if you admit your own mistakes or suggest areas for your own improvement then the other person will feel that the conversation is more balanced. They will also appreciate that it’s not just about them and that you are also working to resolve the situation.

6) Be Empathic

Ultimately, most people go to work with positive intentions and seek to work in a pleasant and cohesive environment. If there is a conflict it may stem from a deeper or non-apparent cause and by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and attempting to understand their complete perspective, you’ll be better able to find a best-case outcome.

7) Avoid Triggers

During face-to-face confrontations it can appear that everything is going well but then just one statement is made, the situation escalates and can ‘blow up’. Often these statements include telling the other person what they said, felt or did. These type of statements can appear threatening and provoke a defensive response. A good tip is to be weary and aware of when you say “You” and to especially avoid sweeping statements such as, “You always…” or “You never…”.

8) Find a Win-win

The most desirable solution is one that benefits all involved. By fully understanding the other person’s side and taking your desires into consideration, you will be in a good position to find a solution that works for both of you. This may take some negotiating and it can be beneficial to do some combined brainstorming to explore the various possibilities. “how do we work together here to try to get you where we both need to be..”

9) Finish Well

By the end of the meeting ideally, all of the issues should have been raised and explored, and a solution should have been reached. This should be a time of relief from past concerns and faith in the future. Restate what the issues were, what the solution will be, and let them know how this fits within the overall business vision. You can also state, or restate, what you like about the person and their work to leave the meeting positively.

10) Remain Open

Once the channels of communication have been opened, it’s worth keeping them open. By having further face-to-face communications with the person you’ll be in the best position to evaluate how the proposed solution is working. Set regular catch up, let them know you are supporting them and that ultimately would like to see them succeed…share your stories, your failures, your successes….believe me it helps!

A good flow of communication can also help to minimise or even eliminate the build-up of any further situations of conflict.

Nick Hedges is the founder and director of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners in small to medium business.

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