Conflicts – one of the hardest challenges in management. I heard so many approaches to potential handling of them, majority of them focusing on active listening, issue identification, issue clarification, protocol establishment, solution building, solution confirmation and resolution checking. But at the end of the day, what really matters, at least from my experience, is solution acceptance from conflict parties. I mean, real solution acceptance.
So many times, I was involved in a situation, when outside conflict resolution, pushed solution to involved parties. They provisionally accept it, since they estimated that this will be a way for them to get out of uncomfortable conflict resolution activity. Then they moved away, with not changing their approach to conflict issue, but instead deciding, that they will find a way, how to get what they want in a different way as they did until now. So open conflict becomes hidden issue. Negative development of events is now not a seen lava flow, but a potential volcano eruption waiting to happen.
During my career I was involved in a lot of contract negotiations and what I always find fascinating was: when good layers were involved, they prepared such a great conflict resolution protocol in contract clauses, that it was always very clear, what the end game is. Even if the protocol offered many options for conflict resolution involving both parties’ actions, end game was not in their domain. Protocol was built in a way, that every party had options to present their point of view and decide on their resolution owner person. Protocol had very clearly defined timeline, usually resolution criteria were defined as precise as possible and goal of agreement was also defined.
Even with all those steps, there was always a step that presume that agreement will not be reached and solution for that situation was built on activity that was independent of activities from both parties. Every time we reach that conversation, it was about quality of lawyers who presented and drafted that solution in a way for both parties to accept it as emotionally free solution, that will benefit the relationship for both parties and not harm it.
Ray Dalio is talking about similar principle of conflict resolution that they are trying to run in his company Bridgewater. Principle that conflict or problem resolution is a process that is known and accepted in advance and that it has final resolution platform, that is based on predefined rules.
Reaction and conflict resolution
But that kind of conflict resolution is so rare, since majority of conflicts are not based on different objective inputs, but are based on more emotionally complex subjective perspectives. And that is why, it is important to define on which level conflict is happening, before moving into conflict resolution phase. And by doing that, you need to define an approach:
- either to leave it, to be resolved from both parties, since time will help smooth their differences;
- to get involved and help parties see potential solutions, that they are not able to find themselves, since they are too involved
- or to make a decision for them as third-party resolution owner (and in that case, you need to make another decision and that is, do you believe solution will be accepted by both parties or you will prepare exit scenarios for one or another or both of them).
Conflict resolution and management
Conflict management can have three phases:
- First – you can lower their number, by being transparent and define rules of engagement in advance.
- Second – if it comes to them, find a resolution mechanism and build resolution protocol, that will involve final stage with third-party resolution owner, that is pre-accepted from both parties.
- Third – if you have a mechanism for resolution, be aware of solution acceptance check mechanism and have prepared scenarios for risk management in case of hidden un-accepted solution.
In my sociology study I learnt that one of the main issues people have, is their acceptance that not everybody will like them. That is reality. As are conflicts. But if you manage them right, they can also be potential driver of development, since they can create positive mobilization force. You only need to do risk management properly.