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Managing Conflict at Work (and what I could have done better)

Conflict resolution is one of those topics that is widely taught in seminars around the world. The art of resolving conflict in a productive and lasting manner is not one that most people come by naturally. It is, however, an essential skill for almost every employee in any type of workplace. For those of us not naturally gifted with this talent, practicing positive conflict resolution regularly is key to establishing and maintaining healthy conflict resolution habits.

Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky in my current position. There has been little that could be described as conflict, and even less that needed to be addressed. This makes for a fabulous working environment, but it means that I’ve gotten out of practice resolving conflicts. Recently, a minor situation arose at work between me (Party A) an outside firm we employ (Party B), and a potential business partner (Party C).

Here’s a TLDR version of the situation:
  1. Party A proposed a deal to Party C
  2. Party B told Party C that the deal was not a good one
  3. Party C proceeded not to take the deal

In this scenario, Party B’s role is to support their employer, the company of Party A. (Unless there was an obvious legal or ethical violation occurring, of course.) My boss and I had a quick pow-wow to discuss how to handle this conflict. We determined that a direct conversation was needed, and she let me know that she wanted to empower me to handle situations like this one. We got on the phone with Party B to discuss.

This is how my boss, a long-time leader and natural conflict resolver proceeded to handle the conversation (click here for full details on these steps):
  • Clarified individual perceptions – She remained calm and established that something had occurred which was seen by the employing company as an error.
  • Took an active and empathetic stance – She let Party B explain their perspective without interrupting, blaming or backing down on the importance of the problem.
  • Developed an agreement that works for all – She established a “next time” scenario that was agreed upon by all parties.

All-in-all, this conflict was resolved remarkably quickly and shouldn’t negatively impact our working relationships. However, as the primary contact with Party B, it was my prerogative to step up to have this conversation instead of leaving it to my (highly capable) boss.

This is a good reminder of the importance of practicing and reviewing strategies to resolve conflict. There aren’t any workplaces without at least some instances of conflict, and even if you’re lucky to work with a highly cohesive team like I do, conflict resolution is still a valuable skill to have.
Here are some more resources I’ve been using to brush-up on my conflict resolution skills:

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