Workplace Wisdom

How to Get Back to Business After a Conflict

After a conflict, when you’re working your way toward agreement, with mutual respect and the necessary data in hand, a kind of horse-trading often takes place: “I’m willing to compromise on these dates and give you a little extra time if you’re willing to adjust the design specs and add in a couple of the improvements our customers requested.”

As you consider new potential outcomes together and negotiate the specifics, focus on everyone coming out well — even if the win is only that everyone is treated with respect, gets to voice their opinions completely, and has the chance to sign on as full participants to whatever the final agreement turns out to be.

One of the best ways to build agreement is to make sure all participants to have a hand in crafting the new terms. It’s not enough to offer the others options of what you’re willing to give or scenarios you can envision. Help them work with you to create the options. Otherwise, when it comes down to decision time, they may reject all of your options as being self-serving, only good for you, and insist on something non-collaborative — or they may leave the discussion altogether.

Clearing the Air Post-Conflict

After a tentative agreement has been reached, clarify your commitments in an escalating series that moves from a brief, private, verbal statement sealed with a nod, to a formally documented and public declaration that includes the setting of milestones and checkpoints.

If the original conflict occurred between two people behind closed doors with no one else involved, it’s usually sufficient to resolve the matter and leave no one else the wiser. You may not need any public hoopla. Of course, you might also apologize and shake hands if such actions are consistent with your relationship and with the intensity of the conflict, although this may not be necessary either.

But if the conflict occurred within a group or across departments, it can take planning and ceremony to set things back on the right path, even when you’ve already tacitly agreed to change your behaviors or approach.

Consider a harmonizing ritual: Hold departmental meetings at which the agreement is announced to each “side,” followed by a facilitated interdepartmental meeting in which each group commits to the forward actions and a formal joint summary of the milestones to be accomplished, the process and procedures to be adjusted, and the method the larger group will use to evaluate its progress.

Conflict Resolution Deserves Rewarding

It’s particularly important to publicize the milestone points and to celebrate each bit of progress; this reminds everyone how far they’ve come and how much improvement has been made. Praising all participants and expressing gratitude for the achievement helps set mutual compromise as an institutional model for the future.

Truly overcoming conflict, no matter how petty, and being able to work in concert, cognizant of each other’s norms and needs, is a significant accomplishment and should not go unacknowledged.

Onward and upward,

LK

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