Quelling Conflict

By Cindy Waxer

Conflict does not have to permanently sour relations between an angry sales manager and a disgruntled sales representative. In order to make the best decisions during times of conflict, however, managers need to have a healthy understanding of the very nature of relationships. Peg Pickering, author of How to Manage Conflict: Turn All Conflicts Into Win-Win Outcomes (Career Press, 2000), offers these five principles for maintaining positive relationships during conflict.

Encourage equal participation.
Share your leadership responsibility. Ask team members to think like a manager in a given situation. Request creative responses to events that promote cooperation rather than split decisions. The goal of shared responsibility is to make the point that no one person owns a problem and everyone shares in the responsibility for solving sticky situations.

Listen actively.
Listening is a two-way street. Before a manager can expect subordinates to listen, he or she must demonstrate the skill by truly listening to his or her people. Don’t be afraid to use audiotapes and desktop reference materials to build and maintain this critical skill.

Take time to step back.
Taking a step back can give all parties the opportunity to regain their objectivity, reassess their position and consider the long-term impact a conflict may have on their working relationships.

Focus on the problem – not the people.
It often is difficult to separate the people from the problem, but it’s your responsibility as a manager to do so. Try speaking in a passive rather than active voice. For example, you might say: A problem was created when (whatever happened), as opposed to: You cause a problem when you (whatever). Or to help each person see the other’s point of view do a role reversal with opposing parties playing each other’s role in the conversation.