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«CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACE Some related titles from How to Books Conducting Staff Appraisals How to set up a review system that will ensure ...»

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It may be useful to put yourself into the shoes of an observer, someone with no stake in the issue, someone who understands that both sides have

–  –  –

valid concerns and can give an objective perspective on moving forward.

As this person, what would you say to each of the individuals? How would you comment on their negotiating styles? What would be your suggestions for moving the situation forward?

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Negotiate 1 Listen acceptingly:

N Show you understand.

2 Look for what you can give to the other person:

N Meet real needs.

N Listen to objections and concerns and incorporate these into the agreement.

N Look for ways to help this person save face.

3 Ask for what you need from the other:

N Express your concerns and needs.

N Be prepared to give and take.

N Look for ways that you can save face.

4 Make it a fair deal:

N Ensure there is maximum win for both people.

N Check needs are met.

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Chapter 7 Four Steps to Resolution

In this chapter:

N the importance of understanding and meeting needs N attend to the other person first N explore the need behind the want N invite the other’s solution N build for maximum win-win N fast track to collaboration N dealing with power plays N the steps guarantee you will manage differences without conflict.

It was 8.30 in the evening.

The lights in the restaurant were dim and music was playing softly in the background. We were browsing through the menu, when we noticed a couple across from us.

They were having coffee after their meal. He had his arms folded tightly, a scowl on his face and staring angrily at the ground. She had her back to him and was blowing cigarette smoke aggressively into the air.

Suddenly, she broke the silence. ‘That’s always been your problem. You click your fingers and expect people to jump to attention … even the children don’t like you.’ Out of embarrassment, I dug my head deeper into my menu as he retorted, ‘You are getting more and more like your mother. I don’t know why I ever married you’.


The menu was a blur as out of the corner of my eye, I saw her throw the remains of her coffee over him. He grabbed her tightly by the wrist and through clenched teeth said, ‘Don’t ever do that again’.

Goodness knows what I ordered that night! He eventually released his grip and they sat back to back, in angry silence. Ten minutes later they left.

Imagine if I was daft enough to follow them and ask: ‘How much do you feel understood by your partner 0-10?’ The answer is likely to have been ‘0’. ‘How much do you feel your partner is willing to meet your needs 0 The answer is likely top be ‘0’.

It is impossible to escalate conflict when people are trying to understand each other and meet each other’s needs.

The steps While there is more than just one way to resolve any conflict, there are certain processes that will enable you to manage the differences in open and honest ways without damaging the relationship. Here are four steps, using the skills from the previous chapter, that allow you to make the transformation from you against me to us against the problem. This model has evolved through work on conflict management in organizations and couple counselling.

Step one: Attend to the other person first.

Step two: Explore the need behind the want for both of you.

Step three: Invite the other’s solution.

Step four: Build maximum win-win.

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Steps one and two show that you are trying to understand the other person.

Steps three and four show that you are willing to meet their needs.

Step one Attend to the other person ‘Your presentation was too detailed and too long.’ ‘Yes, but the board needs all the data if it is to make an informed decision.’

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When we are criticized or given feedback, the majority of us are likely to justify and explain our actions. After all, we are intelligent people, we have thought out the situation and we do things for reasons.

–  –  –

While Tanya felt she was listening to Leroy, that was not his experience.

Tanya was not listening to him in a way that allowed him to feel listened to.

–  –  –


Defending yourself only makes things worse. If, as a first step, you...

justify N retaliate N explain your situation N talk about what you want N … you are likely to widen the gap and create a barrier. Of course your situation is important. Talk about your situation only after you attend to the other person’s viewpoint and feelings. In this way you improve understanding and create a sense of collaboration.

What to do The first step in resolving conflict is to attend to the other person and validate the opinion, feeling or intention. To validate does not mean to agree. It is the acknowledgement that the person’s thoughts or feelings are OK... it is her

reality. For example:

‘How would you want the presentation to be?’ ‘What lets you know I don’t listen?’ Most of us get locked into our own situation; focus on what we want and need, and are less inclined to consider the other person’s needs.

When we have an unmet need, there is pain. The greater the pain, the more we focus on ourselves and our needs. If you lie awake all night with pain from toothache, you know how difficult it is to be altruistic and think of others when you hurt so much. In conflict, there are unmet needs, there is pain … expect people to focus on themselves. Reverse this if you want to create a collaborative relationship.

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‘What needs to happen so it is right for you?’ ‘What do you need from me?’ ‘What can we do about it?’ ‘What would you like to see happen?’ The answer to these questions will tell you what the other person wants, i.e. the solution to his unmet need. If you can meet this solution there will be no need to negotiate or go further on these steps.

–  –  –

If Tanya can give Leroy her full attention, then there is a solution which is acceptable to both of them. There is no need to go beyond this step.

Step two Explore the need behind the want Mike wants to have up-to-date information for the monthly sales meeting. Lisa regularly fails to meet the deadline, complaining that she wants more time to collect data and write a comprehensive report. They both want different things and the wants exclude each other. Neither of the stated solutions work for the other person.

If Lisa and Mike stay at the level of wants, they will argue, counter-argue and get more frustrated with no progress being made. It will be a you against me scenario.

The want or position taken is seen as a specific solution to a need or interest. Asking a why question will flush out the need that is driving the want.


Lisa needs to do the job perfectly, Mike needs information so next month’s sales targets can be agreed. Perfection and deciding sales targets may not exclude each other.

At the level of needs both people can problem-solve, negotiate and make real progress.

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Questions to reveal the need By exploring the need behind the want, not only will you keep the focus on the other person, you will intensify the feeling of being listened to and deepen understanding.

‘Why is that important to you?’ ‘Why does that matter?’ ‘Why do you want that?’ Step three Invite the other’s solution The danger with giving our own solution is that it is designed from our criteria and view of the world and may not match the needs of others. It can be like giving someone your glasses, which have been prescribed for near-sight to someone who suffers from far-sight.

Be solution focused Use the what question to move from the problem to solution. There is the danger if too much time is spent on the problem, negative feelings will be triggered and a sense of hopelessness created.

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Problem-solve on both sets of needs e.g. Mike might ask Lisa, ‘What needs to happen so you can maintain your standards and the team agree sales figures?’ Some problem-solving questions How would you see us solving that?

What do you suggest?

What would be your solution?

‘What can we do so you get … (your need) and I get … (my need)?’ Inviting the other’s solution leads to a sense of power with and collaboration. Because the person is involved in designing the solution, you are more likely to get commitment to this rather than compliance.

Step four Build for maximum win-win In the same way as you wouldn’t knock a wall down in your house without checking why it was built, you may not want to knock an idea without first understanding why it was suggested.

The solution offered may not be as bad an idea as first appears. Madame Curie had a ‘bad’ idea that turned out to be radium. Richard Drew had a ‘bad’ idea that turned out to be Scotch tape. It will be useful to recognize the validity of what is offered and then express your concerns. By building on what is offered you can reach an acceptable agreement.

Lisa may suggest that Mike delegates some of her work, freeing up time.

If this solution does not meet Mike’s needs, he may help Lisa to think through the consequences of this suggestions and negotiate further. The conflict is not resolved until there is an acceptable win for both people.


‘What I like about your suggestion is...’ ‘My concerns are...’ ‘What do you suggest we do?’

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This escalates for the following reasons:

Peter’s opening response was to explain his situation rather than N attend to James and his needs.

The interaction stays at the level of wants... needs were not N explored (I want more money – more money is not available – how many times do I have to tell you).

It is you against me. It is ‘I want’ versus ‘you can’t have.’ N

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The outcome is that neither feels listened to or understood. They are angry and frustrated and the relationship has deteriorated. The issue will smoulder and is likely to resurface some time in the future. A barrier rather than a bridge has been created.

Work on the relationship as well as the problem.

Us against the problem

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This works because Peter attends to James as a first step.

N flushes out needs.

N invites James to give the solution.

N builds.

N The result of this approach is that James feels listened to and understood, he senses a willingness by management to meet his real needs. He is being taken seriously and his needs are partially met. Although the circumstances are identical in both scenarios – James wants a salary increase and money is not available to support this – a bridge has been built and the relationship strengthened.

–  –  –

Fast track to collaboration Sheila: Your department never produces its reports on time. (want) Sean: It isn’t a perfect world. We have problems here I can’t always control. (justification) Sheila: Yes but what you don’t realize is... (argument) Sean: And what you don’t seem to understand is... (polarisation) Of course there are reasons why the reports were not ready. To merely explain why they are not ready is likely to damage the relationship and create you versus me. If you wish to create the collaborative us against the problem, include some form of validation and problem-solving. The following example demonstrates how using the third step alone can achieve this.


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Old habits Sometimes you will use these steps while the other person continues in old habits of blame and attack. It can seem as if you are getting nowhere.

Even so, it is possible to have a productive discussion:

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As you will probably require the patience of a saint to maintain this process, it may be as well to balance the amount of patience needed against the value of the relationship to you.

Power plays What can you do with the stubborn person who is dismissive of your needs and is not prepared to compromize? You can be passive, you can fight, or you may wish to confront this person with their behaviour and invite discussion of it.

Here is a way of being assertive while keeping a sense of collaboration. It enables you to begin a conversation without any hint of blame, accusation

or demand. It is in three parts:

1 The behaviour – a non-emotive description of the current behaviour 2 Your response – how you feel or think about the behaviour 3 The preferred behaviour – what you would need instead

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‘When I sense my needs are being dismissed I feel angry And I would like us to work in more collaborative ways.’ If the other person continues to dismiss your needs e.g. ‘You are overreacting’, you can loop again on your assertive request.

‘I appreciate you feel I am over-reacting However, I feel dismissed And I would like us to work in a more collaborative way.’

–  –  –

This three-part formula is a conversation opener. The discussion is only beginning and it is off to a good start. You still need to explore each other’s views and problem-solve for mutual wins.

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