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7 steps to managing conflict

Several years ago, when I started my current job, I had a conflict with another employee. By strict interpretation of our policies, I was right in my actions, but I managed it very poorly. Shortly after that, the other employee resigned. It was a lack of experience on my part. I was more interested in being right than resolving conflict.

One of the harsh lessons you learn early in life, conflict happens. Not everyone will agree with you all the time, or even some of the time. To be successful in life, you need to know how to manage conflict.

I’m not so glib as to expect there is some magic “7–step” solution that will automatically eliminate all your conflict. There are areas of disagreement –say personal beliefs– that may never be resolved. Some past actions, that have deeply affected your life, could require a therapeutic approach to resolve.

However, much of the day-to-day conflict you face can be managed with deliberate and clear communication. If you find conflict is getting in the way of your accomplishing what needs doing, try these steps:

Explain the situation as you see it – Invariably, conflict is about perception and understanding. Start by telling the other party your understanding of the situation.
Describe how it is affecting performance – Tell them how this conflict affects what need to be accomplished.
Ask them to explain their point of view – This can be difficult, but let the other party explain their point of view.
You may find that these first three steps provide enough clarity to resolve the conflict. If not, move on the the next four steps.

Agree on the problem – Reach agreement on the problem. You need a common understanding to develop a workable solution.
Explore and discuss possible solutions – Work together to develop a solution to the conflict. Both parties will stick with a solution they have had a role in developing.
Agree on what each person will do to solve the problem – Make sure you walk away from the session with a clear understanding of which party is responsible for what action.
Set a date for follow up – Don’t leave it hanging. Get together to make sure things are on track. If the conflict is of a complex nature, you may need several follow-up milestones.

In the case of individuals in conflict, this process can work one-on-one. In more complex conflicts, or where groups of people are involved, a third-party facilitator might be needed.

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