Four Tips for Conflict-Busting Conversations

Move past conflict into honest, open discussion.

January 7, 2012

Disagreements, disputes, and differences are normal in any workplace. The hard part is moving past conflict into honest, open discussion.

These tips from “The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict,” can help managers turn meetings with conflicting employees into productive conversations:

1. Start with an icebreaker. Most people will be ready to complain, debate, or argue at the beginning of any conflict-based conversation. Going straight to the topic of controversy will cause most people to defend their positions and attack their opponents from the outset.

An icebreaker will initiate conversation without confrontation. For example, if the conflict involves two employees working on the same project, ask each of them how they became involved in the project and what they hoped to achieve.

2. Be an active listener. This builds rapport and sends the message that you’re genuinely concerned—plus, it’s the best way to get good information. Ask an open-ended question such as, “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

 Listen carefully to each person’s side of the story, entering the conversation when the discussion turns negative.

3. Use and encourage positive language. It’s hard not to slip into negativity after conflict has affected a work group. Think before you speak, and use positive, easily
understandable language.

“Remember, you’re having a conversation not a trial,” says Steven Dinkin, co-author of “The Exchange” and president of National Conflict Resolution Center.

4. Work toward SMART solutions. Sustainable solutions are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed.

Once you’ve implemented these solutions, put them writing. “Verbal agreements have a way of being remembered differently by different people—and then becoming the subject of another conflict,” Dinkin says.