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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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: I
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to differing assumptions of
the parties to the conflict. Working out these differences is a lot easier when we know what everyone's
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: I
- Conflict resolution skills are certainly useful. Even more advantageous are toxic conflict prevention
skills, and skills that keep constructive conflict from turning toxic.
- Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical,
even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
See also Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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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.