Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

This article from the Program on Negotiation Harvard Law School Daily Blog focuses on Conflict Management: Intervening in Workplace Conflict.  Unresolved conflict in the workplace can fester, reduce morale, reduce productivity, and increase turnover.  This can also provide an opportunity to inspire creativity, share and respect opinions, improve future communication, and identify new members

From my book The Servant Manager and my new book Peaceful Resolutions I present tips to address blaming, focusing on the problem, and partnering with others.   All to often we focus on the two stinky twins of BS – blaming self or BO – blaming others.  Blaming anyone does not help.   Focusing on the problem works.  I offer in both texts that using a simple model of FIFI by asking the questions of:

What are the Facts?

What are the Issues?

What are the Feelings behind these issues?  (that is your and others emotions around the issues)

What are the Interests? (yours and theirs)

The article suggests that “if others agree it’s a problem, ask them to help you brainstorm ways to make it better.”

The article also suggests you view this as a joint concern, partnering with others by using open ended questions.  Check out these ideas on open ended questions and incorporate them into your partnering and collaboration with others:

“Find out what everyone’s interests are before considering possible solutions.

Would a mediator or trained facilitator be helpful?

As a mediator and negotiator I can attest that understanding everyone’s interests is critical.   Most parties jump to a solution and start out being negative.  We need to realize there are three sides to every issue, just as there are three sides to a coin.  For example we think of a coin as heads and tails, but do we think about the side of the coin too.  Similarly looking at issues we believe we know our side and we may think we know the other person’s side, but we need to work collaboratively to understand the truth.  Regarding every issue there are three sides.  These are my side, your side and the truth.  It is important to determine the truth and determine the interests of all parties to resolve issues.

The article all focuses on providing good feedback.  I would like to expand on that and suggest providing good feedforward.   This is one of the sessions that I teach.  One of the tips from The Servant Manager addresses providing feedforward. This tip suggests:

Feedback focuses on the past. Feedforward focuses on the future, and isn’t that where we really want to see improvement? Feedforward is expansive and dynamic. Feedforward means giving others suggestions for the future. This demonstrates that you are there to help.

In Feedforward pick a behavior you would like to see changed. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive, difference. For example, “I want to be a better listener.”

State the topic.

  • Ask for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior from your group
  • Only positive comments for the future are allowed
  • Listen attentively and take notes
  • No one can provide a critique or offer suggestions even to make positive statements such as “That’s a good idea”
  • The entire process only takes about two minutes per person

Debrief the process:

Ask participants for their reaction to this process. Generally, the comments are positive and thought of as fun.

Here are ten reasons to try Feedforward:

  1. We can change the future – we can’t change the past. This process helps people envision the future, focusing on a positive future, not a failed past. Coaches train athletes using Feedforward. Race car drivers focus on the road and not the wall. Basketball coaches teach players to envision the ball going into the hoop. This increases the possibility of success in the future.
  2. It can be more productive to help people be “right” than prove they were “wrong” – Negative feedback can be received negatively and reacted to defensively with “let me prove you were wrong” attitude. Feedforward on the other hand, is almost always seen positively because it focuses on constructive solutions.
  3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people – Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. Successful people tend to have a very positive self-image.
  4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task – participants are amazed how much they can learn from people they don’t even know. Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.
  5. People do not take Feedforward as personally as feedback – In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on performance, not the person.” In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally no matter how it is delivered. Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened.
  6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negatively self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. Feedforward is based on the assumption that people can make positive changes in the future.
  7. Face it! Most of us hate receiving negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it – Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference in this area. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms documented their “improvement,” most should be perfect by now. Leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. Uncommon outstanding leaders are. You can make it there. In the meantime, here is a great tool.
  8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback. – You might help others to prepare for future presentations after a bad one by instead of reliving the bad one, giving suggested solutions for the future. Cover the same points but without embarrassing the party or making them feel humiliated.
  9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more effective than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to provide several ideas for the future, please accept these in the positive spirit in which they were intended. Just ignore the ideas that don’t make sense to you. By eliminating judgment about the ideas, the process becomes more positive for both the sender and the receiver. Many successful people have a high need for self-determination and will tend to accept ideas that they buy into while rejecting ideas that feel forced upon them.
  10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members. Feedforward does not imply superiority or judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful “fellow traveler” rather than an “expert.” A good team building exercise is to have each team member ask, “How can I better help our team in the future?” and to listen to the Feedforward from fellow team members.

There are times for feedback and performance appraisals. Feedforward is an effective and efficient tool that can be enjoyable and bring home the same points to the team. Quality communication between and among people at all levels is the glue that holds organizations together. By encouraging one another leaders can dramatically improve quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring the right message is being conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, open organization – one whose employees are focused on the promise of the future, rather than the mistakes of the past.

Catch people doing things right.  Look for little things and provide constructive commentary to reinforce good behavior.  Create an environment that promotes cooperation.

Finally the article suggests you “choose a role”.  I would like to suggest you choose a role as a teacher, coach, mediator etc. as indicated in the article, but that you also remain flexible in your role and adapt as needed with your team.

Good luck.  Take it slow.  Listen and be there to help.

Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA is an expert in conflict resolution dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including his NEW BOOK  now also available as an ebook, Peaceful Resolutions: A 60-step illustrated guide to conflict resolution are available at this link.  Free resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com. Check out the blog.  Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311.