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Conflict Resolution: Scheduling a Meeting with a Reluctant Coworker

Asking an employee to meet and talk about a workplace conflict is often unsuccessful. He may resist a meeting because workplace difficulties are often fraught with conflicting emotions and deep issues. Here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind when attempting to set up a conflict-resolution meeting with a reluctant employee:

  • Be specific and upfront about your intent for the meeting when you approach the person, and then tailor your reaction to her resistance as a way to let her know you’re sincere in your attempt to resolve the conflict.

  • Identify a neutral third party that both of you trust (someone the other person respects who’d be willing to observe the conversations and who wouldn’t hinder the flow in any way). You don’t have to talk to this third party right now; just be prepared to suggest the idea to the person if she says that she’s uncomfortable meeting with you alone.

  • Try to build trust steadily with the person by having discussions on topics other than the conflict, especially subjects in which you have a common interest. A quick conversation in the hallway in which you ask about her weekend activities, or state your amazement at the last-minute three-pointer that won the game, or ask for her banana bread recipe is a great way for both of you to ease into bigger conversations.

  • Suggest a series of meetings as a means for the two of you to start building trust and to let her know that you’re willing to try something completely new.

If a conflict has been going on for quite some time, or if there are a number of issues involved, she may feel overwhelmed at a request to solve all the problems in one sitting. It may be more palatable to approach the subject of your meeting as addressing one issue at a time. Give your co-worker the option to choose the topic of discussion for the first meeting, and she’ll be more apt to agree to (maybe even suggest) a second one.

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