Asking Questions to Help Resolve a Workplace Conflict
When you’re dealing with a conflict between yourself and a co-worker (your boss, a peer, or a subordinate), your focus is on resolving the conflict and improving the situation. Invite the other person to sit down with you, and ask these questions:
What would you like to see happen? What does that look like for you? Ask these questions one right after another so your colleague can describe what he does want versus what he doesn’t want. He may ask for respect, but until he describes what respectful behavior looks like to him, you won’t know how to deliver on his request. Changing your behavior to match your definition of respect may not be what he’s looking for.
What would it take for us to be able to move forward? How do we get there? These questions help an employee describe specific steps that may include an apology or a better understanding of his perspective before he can get over it.
Are you willing to share the impact this has had on you? Are you willing to hear my perspective? Asking about a conflict’s impact moves the discussion from surface details to a working relationship level. Your colleague will appreciate your interest in him and may be more open to hearing your perspective as well. The goal is for both of you to understand the effects of actions, assumptions, and language choices.
What ideas do you have that would meet both our needs? The key part of this question is both our needs. It puts the onus for solution on both of you and shows that you’re interested in creating a remedy that isn’t just about you.
Can you tell me more about that? This question helps you avoid the why questions, which can lead to defensiveness. Show a curiosity to hear more so an employee can share his perspective without feeling like he’s on trial or your boss doesn’t misinterpret a why question as disrespect.
What about this situation is most troubling to you? What’s most important to you? Either way you ask it, this question helps you pinpoint what the real issues are (and they’re almost always based on a core value being dismissed, disregarded, or trampled on).