Establishing ground rules that all parties agree to before beginning to work through a conflict helps to level the playing field and create a safe space. Clear rules about confidentiality, respectful language, and the potential consequences of reaching (or not reaching) an agreement provide a strong foundation for open communication — and a safeguard to fall back on if the discussion strays from those guidelines.
4. Take a break.
Conflict resolution takes a tremendous amount of energy. It is important to take a break when stamina is running low or when tempers are running high.
Whether it’s a few minutes to cool off, or an evening to rest and come back to the conversation with a fresh perspective, a well-timed break is sometime the catalyst that leads to real progress.
Note of caution: Breaks can also sometimes derail negotiations, particularly if it’s overnight or over a period of days. In order to keep the discussion on track, stipulate expectations about how the participants are (and aren’t) allowed to speak with about the conflict.
5. Finally, write it down — in detail.
After reaching a resolution, it’s essential to document the agreement.
Not only does this step increase accountability (whether or not it’s legally binding), it also clarifies all the elements of the resolution and provides an opportunity to ask questions. Include as much detail as possible to create a strong agreement: exactly who is involved in the agreement and what their roles will be, the timeline for acting upon the agreement, and any additional pieces of information that need to be included or examined.
For example, I once facilitated a session for a complicated project that required a nonprofit foundation, a private consultancy, and a government office to collaborate. At the time I joined the project, communication amongst all the three parties had broken down, the project was behind schedule, and there was plenty of disappointment to go around.
As I drafted the final agreed upon solution, there were several “Aha!” moments as each person in the room gained a fuller understanding of their role and could pinpoint the places where the previous plan had failed. The group left the session with a renewed sense of optimism and a roadmap to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
How do you avoid conflict in your business?
Martina Welke is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zealyst, a curated networking service based in Seattle, Washington. Zealyst utilizes smart technology and creative design to build unique events. Zealyst software uses registration data to match attendees according to their interests, and customized social games make it easy to make new professional and personal connections at events.
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