The key to resolving a disagreement between members of your team is acting as an effective mediator, write Jeanne Brett and Stephen B Goldberg for Harvard Business Review.
People disagree with each other – it’s human nature. If you have chosen your team well, team members should, in the majority of cases, be able to talk to each other and resolve these conflicts without involving you. But sometimes emotions run high, and you will have to work with both parties to find an acceptable resolution.
If you have to step in, follow these five steps:
1) Mediate, don’t dictate. If you want to find a long-term solution, your colleagues should be the main players in the resolution process. You should explain from the outset that you are there to help them resolve their differences and that they should focus on reaching agreement rather than persuading you that they are in the right.
2) Meet separately at first. For the resolution process to be a success, you will have to bring your colleagues together, but before they talk to each other, you should meet with each colleague separately in order to gain an understanding of the nature of the disagreement and reassure them that you are there to listen.
You must exhibit empathy without taking sides. “The goal of the initial meeting is to have them leave with emotions abated and feeling respected by you,” write the authors.
3) Encourage respect and gather information. When you do bring your colleagues together make it clear that they must treat each other with respect at all times (no interruptions). Let them talk while you gather the information you need to help resolve the conflict. What is each colleague’s position? What interests underlie each colleague’s position? What does each colleague want? You can ask these questions or just listen to their dialogue and extract the answers.
4) Tackle challenges. Your colleagues might use “facts, rights and power arguments”.
- Facts arguments (when a colleague tries to persuade you their version of events is factually correct) should be dealt with by encouraging both parties to agree to disagree from the start of the resolution process.
- Rights arguments (when a colleague appeals to fairness) should be deflected by suggesting that the discussion be put aside temporarily.
- Power arguments (when a colleague issues a threat – “If you don’t agree with my position, I will…”) should be nipped in the bud with a reminder that both parties have agreed to respect each other and the process, and that the aim of that process is resolution.
5) Reach agreement. In many cases both parties will agree a solution that satisfies their interests. If not, you might still be able to move forward, with both parties agreeing to put the past behind them and accepting a process for interacting and addressing issues in the future.
6) The last resort. If all else fails, “you may need to shed your mediator role and, as the boss, impose an outcome that is in the best interests of the organisation”. If you are forced to take this path, give your colleagues feedback on what they might do to solve any future disagreements on their own.