Troubleshooting Tips for Resolving a Conflict at Work

A number of factors can contribute to workplace-conflict problems when you’re facilitating the solution/agreement portion of your mediation. Be aware of these factors and pay attention to how they can affect the overall quality of your process.

Vague language

Although using open-ended language is a good idea, when it’s time to write up agreements, be as clear and specific as you can be. Avoid language that can be interpreted differently by the parties, such as the following:

  • As soon as possible

  • If necessary

  • Wherever appropriate

  • When convenient

  • More or less

Use language that almost feels like it’s bordering on nitpicking. Be specific!

Settlement by attrition

Sometimes parties can begin to make agreements that they don’t necessarily intend to live up to. They may feel as if their important issues haven’t been addressed, or they as if they lack the power or the authority to effect a change.

When you hear language like “I don’t care — write down whatever you want” or “Let’s just get it over with so we can move on” pay attention. Your employee is telling you something. Explore what’s happening for him when you hear this kind of language.

No settlement is better than a bad settlement. If a settlement is going to fall apart, better that it happen in the meeting where you can address the situation than after they’ve left and returned to the workplace. Bad agreements can undermine trust in your process and support from your employees.

Fatigue

Fatigue can greatly complicate a settlement. If employees are tired or worn down, they may be more likely to settle for an agreement that’s incomplete or unrealistic, which places the likelihood of lasting satisfaction in jeopardy. Watch for signs that the participants are settling because they’re exhausted and just want the process to come to an end. Don’t let impatience move you too quickly through this part of the process. Take a break if necessary, but do make sure to take the time required to craft your agreements thoroughly.

Uncooperative behavior

You’re thinking that you’re an amazing mediator because you’ve been able to guide your employees through a tough conversation that resulted in a list of agreements. Suddenly, one of your employees says he doesn’t like the arrangements and starts talking in circles again.

This situation can occur for one of these reasons:

  • The employee never intended to come to agreement. He went through the motions, did what he suspected you wanted him to do, but didn’t really negotiate in good faith.

  • The employee’s needs haven’t been met. In one way or another, the agreement isn’t meeting his needs or delivering what’s most important to him.

  • Another plan is in play. Maybe he’s leaving the company, looking for a transfer to another department, or seeking the advice of a third party.

  • The employee just isn’t ready. Often, one of the employees isn’t ready to let go of a grudge or doesn’t yet trust that the future could be any different from the past.

Don’t be fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Any one of these explanations for not signing an agreement can also be the reason why an employee is ready to agree to and sign anything. Be especially wary of the yes man, who doesn’t question, doesn’t ask for anything in return, and seems a little too eager to go along with everything his colleague wants. Chances are, either he’s not going to sign the agreement or he has no intention of actually doing anything he’s agreed to. Get to the bottom of his actions by calling a private meeting and exploring your concerns.

Incomplete contingency plans

Your employees may have the best of intentions and may have created a solid and complete agreement that they fully intend to live up to. However, even the best plans can fall apart if you don’t address the “what if” questions. Pay attention to all the possible areas that may cause an agreement to become invalid or would cause it to be renegotiated.

Look for any assumptions or expectations on which your employees are resting their agreements, and test what may happen if those assumptions are incorrect. Having a backup plan may seem redundant, and they may think it’s overkill, but it benefits them greatly if and when things don’t go according to plan.

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