Conflict seems to be an inevitable part of human interaction. How we handle it can make a real difference in our stress levels, career opportunities, project outcomes, and the quality of our relationships. We ask all our employees to build strong conflict resolution skills, and books like Crucial Conversations and Difficult Conversations are required reading at Atomic.
I’ve found that I like to use four steps when addressing conflict with a team member. I hope they can be helpful for you as well.
1. Work on yourself first.
Is your teammate’s behavior really the problem? It might be. However, things are generally not so black and white. Are you communicating clearly? Are your expectations reasonable? Are you making those expectations clear?
Your own actions and reactions are entirely within your control and are, therefore, much easier to change. Make sure that you’re working towards a better future for the team rather than enforcing your personal preferences.
2. Understand that the other person is seeing things you’re not.
We tend to have pretty high opinions of our own perception and judgment. We often assume that we know all the facts we need to trust our perspective on a situation. But when there’s conflict, we’re almost always seeing things from a different angle than our teammates are.
If you approach conflict from a perspective of judgment rather than seeking to understand the different priorities or perspectives in play, you can cause real damage. We often make assumptions about why someone is acting in a different way than we’d prefer. These assumptions are usually wrong. It can cause a lot of damage to proceed as if our view is the correct one, assuming that we have all the information we need to judge a peer.
3. Ask for help.
Nobody likes being judged. I find that presenting my perspective of how someone else is missing expectations almost never achieves the outcome I’m hoping for. Instead, I like to ask for help.
I describe the facts that I’m seeing and the way I feel about the situation, and I ask my teammate to help me find a better path forward. Judgment creates an adversarial relationship, while asking for help puts you on the same team with a common goal.
4. Ask them to propose a plan.
Again, we often trust our judgment and have ideas about the best way to move forward. But our plan is rarely the right one if it’s not informed by the other party’s needs, preferences, and constraints.
I tend to see much better outcomes when I ask the other party to propose a plan and then work together to refine it until we’re both happy with it. Folks are much more likely to stick to a plan that they’ve created than one that’s been created for them. And who knows, maybe the plan you come up with will mostly involve you doing things differently!
I hope these tips are helpful. What’s worked best for you?