There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of books advising on the best conflict resolution techniques and strategies, and I certainly cannot compete in a blog post with the library of information that is out there. Although I’ve been a lawyer for 30-plus years, I always try to resolve any issues without having to take the steps of litigation.
In fact, many of the negotiation and resolution skills I’ve learned have been from working and advising different groups within our organization. Whether working cross-departments or even within your own team, here are a couple observations that might help you when a conflict arises:
1. Compromise. If you are the person negotiating the matter, don’t try to “win” and instead try to resolve the conflict. In other words, your boss probably is more interested in just having the problem go away. That means compromise. You may have to yield on a point, or perhaps pay money that you do not think is owed. Obviously, you cannot be cavalier, and I am not suggesting you be a pushover, but that you keep in mind the ultimate goal from your boss’s perspective. Don’t let your ego get in the way by insisting on a “win”.
2. Identify the problem. A friend of mine tells a story about a young associate in his law firm. A client wanted to build a two-story house on a hillside overlooking the ocean, but the local restrictions limited the lot to one-story construction. The client had obtained the consent of all of the other landowners except the one immediately above the hill. The client engaged the law firm because he was at wit’s end on how to obtain the required consent.
The associate researched the problem and proposed a solution that challenged the validity of the local restriction. That’s when my friend, a more senior lawyer at the firm, stepped in and rejected the approach. He suspected the other party refused to consent because of a concern the two-story house would block his view of the ocean. If that was indeed the case, the courts would never invalidate the restriction. Instead of proceeding in a legal manner, my friend suggested the adjoining landowner hire his own architect ”“ to be paid by the client ”“ to tell the landowner why the house would not block his view. That’s what happened, and the landowner readily gave his consent once he received the assurances.
Never assume the person assigning a task fully understands the problem. Often he or she may be too close to the situation or too busy to understand it. You have to think the matter through from both your perspective and the other person’s perspective. Sometimes, the problem and the accompanying resolution may be outside of your area of expertise, such as in my friend’s case, where it was an architectural issue and not a legal issue. The key is to identify the real source of the conflict and then guide the parties to the solution that makes the most sense.
3. Know the limitations. Your position may put restrictions on you regarding the scope of your authority to settle a conflict. Keep in mind your counterpart on the other side of the table has similar limitations. If you feel the person on the other side is acting unreasonably, you might have a situation where the person does not have authority to compromise. If so, suggest the matter be elevated to the next level. That is not a sign of defeat or failure; you just need to get in front of someone with authority to compromise. If you wait too long to elevate it, the parties may well become entrenched in their position and it may poison the well even further.
These tips will help you navigate through a conflict, but the best way to handle conflict is to avoid it from happening. You can do that with frequent, clear, effective communication. This keeps all team members informed about what is expected of them and if they are meeting those expectations.