In You Decide to Resolve a Conflict, Now What? we discussed some steps to take when you decide to step in and help resolve a conflict. These steps were designed to help you when you know in advance that you will be facilitating resolution. Today we are going to build on those steps by looking at how to lead the team through a productive conflict resolution session.
Lets assume that you have the group together and you have discussed roles and responsibilities, ground rules for your time together, agreed on your common goal and you have allowed participants to express their thoughts and expectations about the outcome of this session. Now you are ready to:
1) Allow each party to share their perspective. The purpose of this sharing is to gain insight into where people are coming from; it is not to allow people to verbally abuse others, to complain or to place blame. Reminder: Make active listening part of your ground rules. During this time we should be truly listening to our associates, not preparing our rebuttals to their statements.
2) Start brainstorming! Encourage everyone to provide ideas on how to resolve the issue or conflict. No idea is too crazy; you never know where an alleged crazy idea will lead. Try to get people to come up with at least three ideas per person. You dont want anyone to stay stuck on just one approach not yet!
3) Separate the ideal proposal from the idea selection. After the brainstorming try to have a cooling off period. The purpose for this cooling off period is so that people let go of any attachment they have to their ideas. In fact when you record ideas from the brainstorming, do not list whose idea it was. (Sure some people will remember, but the point is to stay away from sides and politics etc.)
4) What you can do before selecting an approach is define the requirements for the resolution. What does the right approach do, what does it not do? You dont do this before your brainstorming because it will constrain the creative process.
5) Now you are ready to select a course of action. Tell the group how the decision will be made. If it will be by consensus, fine. If you make the decision, great. But if you do not explain the decision making process to the group, you will find yourself right back in the middle of a new conflict.
6) Once a decision has been made, create an action plan and carry it out. You have resolved the conflict and selected a way to move forward. Now it is time to assign clear and specific tasks to specific individuals. If you do not it is as-if the conflict was never resolved.