OBSI plans to improve resolution process

Workplace disputes can be messy, complicated affairs. If left unresolved, the pettiest of fights can culminate in a crisis that’s hard to recover from. Whether the disagreement is about the office kitchen or the client newsletter, an unresolved dispute can drag the entire team down, disrupting the workflow and creating a toxic environment.

As the leader of your team, you must be prepared to confront the issue, mediate with both sides and hold them to a collaborative resolution.

“You need to deal with the issue, think long term and short term, so it’s not a continuous challenge in the business,” says Larry Distillio, director of financial advisor business management at Mackenzie Investments in Toronto.

Distillio suggests three ways to defuse workplace conflict:

1. Have both sides air grievances
Competing narratives about the root of the issue should be addressed with both parties present. Each person may have different perceptions about their role in escalating the conflict, so allow them to relate their story.

“Get their perspective and the facts and understand the events that led to the conflicts,” says Distillio. “Bring both parties together and allow them to share their version. It will often help the other individual be aware of other issues.”

2. Listen and find common ground
With the range of emotions triggered by conflicts, one meeting with both parties may not be enough to settle the issue. Don’t rush the process; listen and spend time drawing out a compromise that satisfies the aggrieved. Team members shouldn’t walk away from the talks feeling as though a solution was forced on them.

“It’s very important to be forward-looking, positive, and to confront negative feelings,” Distillio says. “[Figure out] where to go from here, and agree that we’ll have to resolve it in a positive manner.”

By listening to your team members’ stories, he says, you can help them realize what they actually agree on.

3. Hold an off-site team day
If the conflict has ruptured relations among team members to the point where others have taken sides, schedule a day of strategy to regroup. As a leader, you can take a neutral position and facilitate a “healthy debate” for discussing divisive issues, Distillio says.

“Frame the tough issues in a way that encourages and allows for disagreement in the room in a respectable manner,” he says. “[You can] steer or direct the group toward a resolution of conflict.”

For the meeting to be successful, everyone should have the chance to contribute. “This allows things to get out in the open, Distillio says. “People share supporting arguments and ask questions.”

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