Two to Tango

Shawnee Love   •  
April 15, 2014

Everyone knows it takes two to tango and the same is true for conflict.  You can’t have a disagreement on your own.

While disagreement can be healthy, particularly when debating problems and solutions, when the tone and style of disagreeing become destructive a manager must step in.

If you observe unhealthy conflict in your team, here is the process that works for me:

  • Halt the escalation by asking those involved to cease fire.  Be clear that no further communications should occur about the topic that has boiled over until you give the word. (And you won’t give the word until the conflict is resolved.)
  • Invite those involved to meet with you individually and privately where you will allow each to tell his or her side of the story.
  • During your meetings:
    • Ask each person to:
      • Tell you what happened.
      • Describe his or her underlying motivations and intent.
    • Listen carefully and ask questions to ensure you understand the root causes as well as symptoms.
    • Articulate what you observed and ensure each person is aware of his or her part in the destructive aspects of the conflict.
    • Clarify what if any consequences or repercussions can be anticipated.  These facts can motivate employees otherwise dug into their positions to seek possible alternatives.
    • Discuss options and don’t be shy to make suggestions if your employees still aren’t seeing potential solutions.
    • Collaborate on a resolution strategy for each person involved.
  • Regroup and supervise the resolution strategy as each person plays his or her part.
Throughout this process remember to stay neutral in public.  Even if one of the people has behaved worse than the other(s), the goal is to end the conflict and enable your people to work together going forward.  If you need to coach or criticize one employee for his part in the conflict, do so behind closed doors only.

While it takes two to fight, it also takes two to make a good relationship.  And learning how to fight constructively is a skill a manager can teach and role model for employees.