Avoiding conflict difficult, but important to good management

Avoiding conflict difficult, but important to good management

Feb 17, 2005

When do you confront someone about a problem?

Here are some ready-made guidelines to help you through it.

1. If you are upset or angry about something, you need to confront the situation. Avoidance of co-workers and strained relationships can result in further problems. However, this doesn't mean you have to confront immediately if you are too angry to be constructive right that minute.

  • Cool down and collect yourself. Be careful not to let emotions interfere with your performance or ruin your day.
  • If it's second-hand information, it's gossip. Don't confront a situation unless you've seen it happen.

2. Explain the problem as you see it. This helps focus the discussion from the start. Be sure that you are stating your perception of the problem.

Say something like:

  • "It makes me upset when you come in late because I feel that you aren't committed to great customer service and don't care about how it looks to the rest of the team."

3. Describe the impact the problem is having. Talk in person about how you see things. If you don't effectively communicate how the problem is impacting you or the practice, then you are really just griping. People don't want to cause problems, make you mad or do a poor job at work. If they are causing a problem, chances are good they just need to be made aware of it and be given the chance to fix it.

  • "When you leave early and don't clean up before you go, other staff members get behind in their work to finish yours."
  • "When you are talking to your spouse or doing homework on clinic time I feel angry that others have to take up the slack."
  • "What you are doing hurts the reputation of the practice and that really upsets me."

4. Ask for the other person's views. Remember, the information you have may not be complete, so get his or her perspective on the situation. This step also conveys the message that you respect his or her opinions.

  • "How do you see this situation?"
  • "What do you think would be a good solution?"

5. Sometimes the solution is obvious -- the person needs to stop what he or she is doing (or not doing). If not, explore and discuss solutions. List as many solutions as you can think of. Do not evaluate or criticize any of the ideas until the list is complete. Together you can select a solution. The solution should work for both parties, because both are involved in the conflict.

6. Agree on a plan. This step is simple but very important. It is here that you recheck for misunderstandings. If you do this correctly, you can be sure you are on the right path toward resolution. The resolution has to mean the conflict goes away. Don't do the same thing or have the same discussion over and over and expect different results. Agree on consequences as well as a plan.

  • "We've all agreed that if you are late 16 times, you will be docked in pay."

7. Set a follow-up date. It is easiest to ensure a positive outcome if you agree specifically on what each of you are to do while the problem is still fresh in your mind. Sharing responsibility enables both of you to feel fully committed to the solution.

Think of a conflict in your life right now, at home or work. How would you use this protocol to resolve it?