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:
- Conflict Haiku
- When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing
that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups
into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
- The Fine Art of Quibbling
- We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares
of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can
be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
- Virtual Termination with Real Respect
- When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid
travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
- Lateral Micromanagement
- Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another.
Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power
and rank, and it is toxic to teams.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates.
Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
See also Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.