Handling conflict is one of the stressful challenges that we can face in the workplace. Our fantastic special guest Gemma Bromfield, a professional mediator shared her insights with us at a recent lunchtime live event on handling conflict and difficult conversations in the workplace. We are grateful to Gemma and to everyone who came along and participated, making it an engaging session.
There was a consensus that conflict can be ironed out with a decent, non-judgemental communication. But it can be hard to say the right thing, in the right way at the right time.
One common thread was how emotional having challenging conversations is and how personal it can all feel. We can easily feel attacked or triggered and overwhelmed. It can also be exhausting to have to be the one to instigate conversations that we may even feel are not our responsibility to lead on, but we spot problems that need to be addressed.
So how do we tackle some of these difficult conversations in order to achieve a constructive outcome and restore peace? (whether that be peace of mind, finding tolerance or moving on from the situation)?
Here are a few key highlights we discussed:
1. Listen - even if your dispute is with a more senior colleague, remember the other person is only human too. If you are the manager, invest time upfront in listening to your team regularly - maintaining open communication channels can help create trust in the relationship before problems arise.
2. Be prepared - don't jump straight in with your first response. Be clear in advance what it is that you want as an outcome of the conversation, and consider the best timing. You may not get exactly the outcome you desired but being clear on what you are seeking will at least increase the chances of a more constructive conversation. Coming back to a conversation when you feel better equipped to deal with it can be helpful to reduce the emotional impact on you and the other party.
3. Speak your mind - if you are not getting your needs met, be explicit with your manager/colleagues about the issues early. Feeling unsupported and unheard is often a root cause of conflict escalation so don't let problems fester unspoken. Be constructive by stating the negative impact an issue is having for you and how you would like that impact to be improved or removed. Proposing solution options can help - the other person won't know what is right for you, only you do.
4. Get independent help and/or support each other within the team - having a third person to help you gain perspective and/or to facilitate a difficult conversation can help avoid individuals in conflict retrenching into fixed positions. This is especially important if you feel you might possibly say things you later regret!
5. Pick your moment and location - where you have conversations can be important. Sometimes having a desk between you can create an automatic barrier, so if you wish to have a constructive discussion sitting side by side or without a table inbetween may work best for initial chat. Choosing a less formal place than the office meeting room such as walking and talking can be a good way to discuss difficult things. Outdoors there is movement to counteract some of the anxiety and the fresh air or novel environments can help people to 'breathe'.
We hope these tips help you start having much better two-way communication within your workplace. If you would like any coaching or further help with having better conversations then get in touch. ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Joanne and Maggie.