Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution

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by Lawrence Polsky & Antoine Gerschel

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. When you have the right words and phrases at your command, you can quickly resolve any disagreement—and prevent it from spreading into an uncontrollable fire.

Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution has hundreds of ready-to-use phrases, dialogs, and practice scripts to help you rise above the conflict and focus on solving the problem, whether it's with an employee, boss, customer, supplier, or coworker. This handy, quick-reference guide provides effective language for dealing with:

• A micromanaging supervisor
• An underperforming employee
• A peer's disruptive work habits
• Unreasonable or unethical customer requests
• Abrupt, rude, and unprofessional coworkers

HRIQ: How does conflict evolve?

Lawrence Polsky: Conflict evolves when 2 people see a situation differently. Politics is the example of the moment. The 2 political parties see the problem of our expense being higher than our revenue differently. The Republicans see it as "we are spending too much money". The democrats as "we need more revenue to cover our expenditures". The conflict is because each side interprets the data they have differently. Whether it is with a static topic or about an interaction that upset people, the same things happens at work and home.

Every situation is different, but is there a process we should follow to resolve workplace conflict?

We recommend 4 steps in the book. The first is the hardest . It is raising the issue. This means setting time aside to address the issue; laying out the specific concern you have; and listening to the other person. The trick here is speak as specifically as possible about your point of view while not attacking the other. And remembering to listen since any issue is a 2 way street. The second step is one that many people don’t get to: set a vision. Once you have explored the issue, you need to lay out your vision for the future. Some people get stuck in the hurt/disagreement/problem and never work to create a more positive future. Instead, think about "What kind of relationship do you want? How would you like to collaborate? What will create effectiveness?" And again, listen to their vision. Third, with your partner in conflict, explore alternatives of how to reach the vision. Lastly, if you can, agree on next steps: what will you do next time? What do you need from them.

These are the steps. And as we say in our classes and speeches, it is rarely ever this linear in real life. Keep the 4 steps in mind, but don’t get attached to following them in the exact order.

How do issues of power come up, and what is the best way to reduce them?

Power issues are always there. Everyone wants to be right. They want to be validated. On top of that, at work (which our book is focused on) power exists. If you are leader, you need to focus on the issue and remember that criticism from a superior is often taken very personally. Depersonalize the delivery, be extra nice about it. Mostly importantly make sure you focus twice as much over the year on things that are working, rather than what is not working. Those positive conversations build the basis of trust for the negative ones. If you are a subordinate, then match the style of your boss. If they are direct, be direct. If they are analytic, focus on data. If they are relationship focused, sit down and have a long personal conversation. Then, always remember they are your boss and have a huge impact on your tread lightly.

What are some of the personality types that you can encounter in the workplace, and what makes it so difficult to deal with them?

We outline 4 in our book. The steamroller tries to win the argument by rolling over you. They are hard to fight since they are so confident and strong. They respect directness and firmness, so break into the conversation and hold your ground. The attacker makes it personal by turning on you personally. This sidetracks you from the real issue. Be clear with the impact their words are having and that you won’t accept their behavior. Emotional Land Mines explore in anger or sadness unexpectedly. This can be very disorienting. Give them their space, take a break, and come back to the conversation later. With People Pleasers, everything is always OK. You can’t find out what is really going on and what they stand for. This makes is hard to collaborate with them. Let them know that whatever they say is fine with you and that you want to know the truth. Be soft, don’t push them, and be patient.

Can you give an example of a conflict that might arise with an employee, and a suggestion for how to resolve it?

We have some many conflicts outlined in our book: conflicts with your boss, with someone who works for you, a peer, a vendor. Let me think.

How about one with your boss? Those are awkward.

Ok. How about talking to your boss about having too much work. That you are overloaded. And he/she keeps giving you more work? We outline this one in the second chapter of our book. That is hard because you don’t want to come across as lazy or not a team player. So, following the 4 steps I outlined earlier, ask for a time to speak. If pushed for a topic, say something like, "I want to talk about my performance on the job" or "I want to check-in with you about my priorities". Keep it high level. When you open the discussion, begin by acknowledging that you understand the pressure we are all under to create results and how important it is that we all give it everything we have to succeed. This will connect with your manager, as she feels the pressure and wants to succeed, as you do. Then go into the specifics. Talk about how you "want to recalibrate the priorities since we have gotten a lot of new work in the past few days/weeks". Or say "With all the new work, I’ve lost track of what the top priorities are." Then quickly add the impact of this problem by saying something like "I end up overwhelmed and do the easy stuff first, which I know is not the most productive approach" or "I don’t want to be focusing on what I think is most important and disappoint you when you think something else is more important".

Now it is time for your manager to share their point of view. Listen closely. Clarify when necessary. When you think that you understand the priorities, repeat them back to clarify.

The question we often get is, "What if your manager says something like "Well everything is important!" This is a sign you need to be more firm and direct. It means they are either overwhelmed themselves, not skilled at managing their boss or just an insensitive hard driving boss. In any case, you need to reemphasize the impact of not knowing the priorities your short and long term results. You also need to know your limits: what are willing to live with and what must change for you to function. Something will have to give, either the quality of results or the quantity of results. Give them one more chance to re-asses and verify "So that means…..".

From there it is up to you to decide how to approach your workload. You did what you can to address the issue, by being patient, asserting your position and listening. That is all you can ever do. All conflict is a 2 way street. Find the best approach, give it your all, and if it is important enough, come back to it until you get your needs met.

Is it easy? No way. That’s why we wrote the book. To give people some ideas and inspiration to help them through the challenging conversations.