Conflict Resolution: Preparing for a Meeting with Employees
Before your conflicting employees are ready to sit down with you and discuss their dispute, you have some work to do. By preparing the space for your meeting, you maximize your potential for a successful conversation.
Choosing a neutral location
You must maintain the appearance and substance of neutrality at all times throughout your conversation. Any suggestion — whether real or imagined — that you’ve compromised neutrality will derail your process. Here are a few things you can do to create a sense of safety and neutrality:
Consider the location of the room itself. Try not to schedule your meeting in any location that could be described as either employee’s “turf.”
You may think that your office is the ideal spot, because, as a manager, you’ll be calling the shots and your employees will be more likely to follow your lead. But the truth is your office only reinforces the idea that this meeting is a disciplinary action — which is a message to avoid.
Choose a meeting room that’s as private as possible. Find a place where the curious eyes of others won’t affect your discussion. “Private” should also mean minimal distractions. Listening well is hard when you have distractions competing for your attention.
Allowing enough time
Successful mediated conversations take some time. Your conversation may take upwards of three to four hours (including the occasional ten-to-fifteen-minute breaks you’ll take for personal needs). Make sure that the parties allow for such a time commitment when you schedule the meeting. It’s reasonable to assume that the demands of the workplace may intervene in the conversation, but setting clear expectations about the importance of the meeting should create the space for the parties to devote enough time to reach solid agreements.
Facilitating a comfortable environment
You can help create a more positive response to the conversation, however, by improving the comfort of your surroundings. Both of your employees must have equal access to all the amenities that you provide. Consider the quantity and quality of everything in the meeting. For example, if you provide three pieces of paper to one employee, make sure the other employee also has three pieces of paper. Any indication of partiality can disrupt your process.Consider including a few of the following items to help the parties make the most of their time:
Water and snacks
Some snacks are better than others. Nervous employees who gobble down handful after handful of candy may have a quick burst of energy followed about an hour later by a pretty nasty sugar crash. I provide protein bars or granola bars and a small bowl of candy.
A way to keep time
With all the work you’ve done to prepare your employees, you also need to take a few minutes to focus on yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the conflict or over-invested in the outcome. The less emotionally invested you are, the better.
This is your employees’ conflict. They own the problems, so they own the solutions! If you allow yourself to become attached to the conflict, and you become invested enough to make suggestions or offer solutions, you’ve effectively become responsible for those outcomes and whether they succeed or fail. Your employees will be more likely to buy in and follow through on an agreement when they themselves propose and refine it.
Before your meeting begins, take about 30 minutes and prepare yourself for what’s to come. Strong conflict creates strong emotions, not only on the part of the participants, but for any observer as well. Expect to hear language that’s affected by emotions, and prepare yourself accordingly.