Do you want more insights about how to solve workplace conflict as a manager? This short skit will help you translate conflict resolution theory into actions. As you read, recall the children’s game you played when you looked for hidden objects in a picture. In this case, find instances of conflict resolution strategies that the manager, Kris, is using to settle a conflict between two employees.
How many of these techniques can you find in the script?
- Ask questions rather than make statements.
- Highlight constructive comments and facts.
- Summarize what parties say while removing the invective.
- Decline to take sides.
- Encourage direct discussions rather than being the go-between.
- Acknowledge emotions to help them feel understood.
- Disrupt escalatory behavior and comments.
- Ask questions to unearth stories, feelings, and facts.
- Encourage parties to speak from their own experience rather than blame the other.
- Maintain a problem-solving attitude.
- Help parties resolve broader concerns, not just the immediate problem.
- Don’t make judgments.
- Highlight commonalities.
- Seek their permission to serve as their mediator.
- Ask parties to take turns sharing their points of view.
- Give credit to the parties for finding their own solution.
- Reveal the underlying needs that animate their demands and positions.
- Encourage participants to develop their own solutions.
Turn down the lights, lift the curtain, and enjoy the show!
Kris: Excuse me, Don, could you look at this graph and see if you think last year’s figures are accurate?
Don: Well, I can take a quick glance, but you know I’m working against the deadline for the client survey report.
Kris: Sure, but that’s not due until next week, and I need to take this up to Joyce by 4 o’clock this afternoon.
Don: (with strong feeling) You know, this is typical. I never seem to be allowed to focus on anything. I’m always being sent in another direction!
(Walking by, Sam hears the commotion)
Sam: What’s the matter?
Kris: Oh good, Sam, this isn’t going well. Don is overreacting to a little request I have.
Don: All I’m asking for is more forewarning before you unload projects on me.
Sam: I don’t want to interfere, but would you like me to help out?
Kris: Yes, please.
Don: Yeah, we weren’t getting anywhere.
Kris: That’s the kind of comment you make that makes things worse. I’m getting irritated.
Sam: You’re both obviously upset. But since I just walked into this, tell me what’s going on.
Don: Kris asked me to look at a graph of figures, and I’m willing to take a glance. But I’m also working against a deadline for a report due next week. She’s asking me to switch gears and focus on this new “emergency”.
Kris: Who said this was an “emergency”? I’m asking you for a few minutes for a simple verification.
Sam: Kris, could you tell me, from your perspective, what is happening?
Kris: OK, I asked Don to confirm last year’s numbers on this graph that I’m presenting in a meeting this afternoon. Joyce expects it to be perfect before we send it to the Director, and I need a second opinion. Evidently, Don doesn’t think this is part of his job.
Don: (Exhales loudly)
Sam: So, Kris, you’ve said that you need confirmation on some data before an important meeting. It also sounds like you’re wondering why Don is reluctant to do a task that you consider pretty simple and part of his regular duties. Did I get that right?
Sam: Now, Don, can you tell me your point of view?
Don: I know this is part of my job, but Kris keeps throwing stuff at me at the last minute. She should’ve thought about this graph in advance and given me some lead time to look it over.
Sam: I heard you say that you’re already working on an important deadline for Kris, and this new request makes it harder to meet that obligation. You’d be willing to look at the graph, but it’d be better if you’d had advance notice. You also mentioned that this seems like a pattern.
Sam: I can tell you’re both frustrated with this situation and with the conversation you’ve had so far.
Kris: Yeah, I didn’t know that asking him to look at this graph would set him off.
Don: I’m feeling completely ambushed.
Sam: So, you both wish this was going differently.
Kris & Don: Yeah.
Sam: Maybe we could go back to where the conversation started. Don, you mentioned that you are working on another deadline; what’s that about?
Don: Kris wants me to have the client survey done by 3 next Wednesday. If I can concentrate on it, I can do it, but not if I keep getting pulled in other directions.
Sam: So, you want to do a competent job on the survey and have it done on time.
Sam: Kris, what do you think about what he is saying? Tell him directly.
Kris: (to Sam) Let me ask you Sam, do you think it’s out of order for me to ask Don to review something?
Sam: You clearly don’t think so.
Kris: (to Sam) Yeah, I should be able to ask Don to be flexible. He’s right that the survey is important, but what I’m asking for is more urgent. We all know how agitated Joyce gets if we submit inaccurate data.
Sam: Can you explain why you came to Don for this?
Kris: (to Don) I have 5 people I rely on, but I came to you for some backup because I know how well you do this work. This is important, and Joyce will challenge me on every detail.
Don: But you always expect me to drop everything when you come at me on short notice.
Sam: Don, did you hear Kris say why he came to you, personally?
Don: Because she trusts my work. (Speaking to Kris) I appreciate that, but how do you expect me to do 10 things at once and do them all well?
Kris: We can almost always renegotiate deadlines. But you know me, I try to maintain a sense of urgency so we don’t get complacent.
Don: Are you calling me complacent?!
Kris: You aren’t listening!
Sam: This has clearly been a sore spot for you both. Don, I heard Kris say some deadlines are negotiable. Would that address your need for flexibility?
Don: (to Kris) I’d like to know when things are due so I can focus on those deadlines without too many distractions.
Kris: (to Don) I know that about you, but you know we work in a dynamic and busy field here.
Don: (Grunts and shrugs).
Sam: Let me see if I’m hearing you right. Kris, you respect Don’s work quality and that’s why you often come to him. While you set deadlines to maintain momentum, you’re willing to talk about some of these deadlines. Also, you’d like Don to acknowledge that he works in a fluid environment and you’d like him to be flexible. Is that accurate?
Sam: And Don, you seem discouraged by what feels like shifts in priorities. You’re someone who works best when your attention is focused on the most urgent task. It also sounds like you appreciate that Kris knows you’re a high performer. Does that capture some of it?
Sam: So, what ideas do you have to manage the problem?
Don (to Kris) If you’re serious about being flexible on the client survey, then of course I’ll look at the graph numbers.
Kris: Would extending the survey report another day help you? Or whatever… you tell me.
Don: Yes, another day would be fine.
Sam: I’m still curious about the general problem you’ve both mentioned with deadlines. How might you deal with that?
Kris: How about if, in the future, when I need to give you a new assignment, I’ll first ask how it fits with what you have going on already, and we can prioritize things together. Would that work for you?
Don: Great, that would be really helpful.
Sam: Well, congratulations. How are you both feeling about things?
Don: I’m sorry I reacted so strongly at first. I know I must be more flexible – it’s something I’m working on. This new arrangement will help.
Kris: (to Don) Well, I understand now why you were so upset with me. I’ll try to respect your style more in the future. (to Sam) Thanks for the help, you solved our problem, but I’m sorry we had to involve you.
Sam: Actually, you did the hard work. I’m glad you worked it out.