Listening to Your Coworker in a Conflict-Resolution Meeting
As concerns about the workplace conflict are shared, listen closely to how he describes the situation. How each of you interprets the events gives you insight into how the conflict developed, what’s keeping it going, and what approaches you can collectively take that will lead you to solutions.
Bear in mind that even though both of you likely experienced the same incidents, he’ll probably describe the impact differently than you do. This isn’t a time to question who’s right and who’s wrong, because both accounts are true. They’re two different ways of viewing the same situation and are merely reflective of both of your experiences and perspectives. Keep in mind that you don’t need to agree in order to understand.
Show the other person that you’re listening by:
Presenting open body language. Create an inviting space by assuming a comfortable posture with your arms at your sides or rested on the table. Lean forward a little, but be careful not to invade his personal space.
Making and maintaining good eye contact. Connect by looking him in the eye as appropriate. Put everything away and give him your full attention.
Positively reacting to his statements. A few well-placed nods and subtle verbal responses let him know you’re hearing him.
Be careful not to react too much, though. You may hear some surprising things, but keep your poker face! A raised eyebrow, a rolled eye, or a dropped jaw can send a message that you think he’s exaggerating, or that you believe he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Waiting to correct or clarify. Honor his time to talk. Even briefly clearing up minor misunderstandings undermines the integrity of the process, so be patient.
Taking notes for the facts and more. Getting the facts straight is important, because missing a date, stating an incorrect dollar amount, or getting a name wrong may give the impression that you’re not listening or that you’re not as interested in his perspective as you say you are.
As you take notes, make sure you also capture his emotions about the conflict and the values buried beneath his remarks so when it’s time for you to reflect, you can speak to those things. A statement such as, “You’re always looking over my shoulder at everything I do!” can give you some insight that he’s looking for autonomy or trust in his relationship with you because he values those things in general.
Looking for ways to neutralize strong language. As the other person speaks, he may come out with some pretty strong opinions about the situation and anything else he thinks makes sense to throw in. Try to respond by confirming how upset he is but by using language that doesn’t inflame him.
Don’t expect your colleague to know what he’s looking for when he first begins to tell you his point of view. He may say that he wants x, y, or z. He may say that he sees the problem in the simplest of terms and can’t understand why you don’t see it that way as well. Just let him talk. The more he shares, the more information you’ll have when it’s time to respond and you can demonstrate then that you understand where he’s coming from.