Lisa picked up the next interdepartmental envelope, flipped it over, and noticed it was from Boyd. It was marked "Confidential." Oh, not another one, she thought. Sure enough, the memo inside was another volley in the ongoing war between Boyd and Wallace. Three pages of single-spaced venom.
She knew she had to read it, but reading it seemed like such a waste of time. Mercifully, the phone rang.
She picked up without looking at the caller ID. "Morning. Lisa."
It was Wallace. "Have you seen it? This is too much. I can't believe…"
Lisa interrupted him. "I know. Don't reply. No emails, no memos. Go for a walk. I'm setting up a meeting with the two of you. I want us to get past this."
Lisa is in the midst of a battle between two of her reports, Boyd and Wallace. It's been going on for some time, but Lisa has just done two things right — she announced her intentions to make a peace, and she intervened to stop Wallace from returning fire.
What she does next can make the difference between moving on to get business done, and losing one, two, or even more employees. Here are some tips for peacekeepers.Don't let the war go on.
It will only escalate
until you have to act.
- Act now
- Don't let the war go on. It will only escalate until you have to act. Decide what to do to unwind the conflict, and do it. Hint: reassignment of one of them probably won't fix the problem.
- Declare an armistice
- If a memo war or an email war is in progress, end it immediately. Put a time-limited embargo on new emails, memos, snide remarks, and private complaints to you. This prevents the situation from getting even more complex.
- Assess your own role
- When two people are engaged in personal conflict, you might think you aren't involved, and maybe you aren't. But if you're at all close to the conflict, you're probably involved implicitly. Are they contending for your favor? Have you set them up?
- Consider a facilitator
- Consider enlisting an outside party skilled in addressing personal conflicts, especially if you think you might be playing a role. Give preference to candidates who are unknown to you and to the parties involved in the conflict. An external consultant is ideal. Don't try to do it yourself. Even your dentist goes to another dentist.
- Make the first meeting exploratory
- Don't expect to find a "solution" without first learning what's happening. You and the two participants in the struggle will certainly have different perspectives. Explore them.
When two people are in conflict, they're often proxies for others. The conflict could be a manifestation of a conflict between organizational elements, or between two or more groups, or even a conflict within someone else. Since the proxies might not be the cause, look for resolution without blame. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Conflict Management:
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
a top priority problem. What can you do?
- Peek-a-Boo and Leadership
- Great leaders know what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it, sometimes with stunning
effect. Consistently effective leadership requires superior empathy skills. Here are some things to
do to improve your empathy skills.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
- Quips That Work at Work: I
- Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered,
does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?
- Pushing the "Stupid" Button
- Some people know exactly how to lead others to feel ignorant or unintelligent. Here's a little catalog
of tactics to watch for.
See also Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.