3 min read

Manage conflict skillfully to promote learning and resolve hurt feelings

Manage conflict skillfully to promote learning and resolve hurt feelings

It’s natural for employees to have disagreements. However, negative emotions can fester if these situations are not managed properly. The individuals involved may lose sleep due to stress or spend valuable time talking with people not directly involved about how they were wronged. Health, well-being and productivity can suffer.

Many employees have never been trained in conflict resolution or know how to manage differences of opinion, so they avoid critical conversations, but avoidance isn’t the answer. They can still develop hurt feelings or ruminate about what isn’t working to the point that it affects their well-being and productivity.

So how can you help to resolve conflict and address hurt feelings?
Dealing with conflict is challenging because it brings up unpleasant emotions. Many leaders are ineffective at conflict resolution because they focus on talking at instead of with the people involved. However, you can avoid this by paying close attention to the ratio of time you spend listening vs. talking and following this four-step process.

  1. Focus on one issue at a time — Make it clear there may be several issues, but you’re going to focus on one at a time. Be careful not to get distracted. Name the problem you’re going to focus on. It may be necessary to repeat this several times.

  2. Create space to listen — Allow all parties involved to share their position, concerns, point of view regarding resolution, and motivation to move forward. Set a no-interruption rule. If emotions take over, take a break, but make it clear that everyone will be respectful by listening to one another and keeping body language in check.

  3. Respect first— Design a resolution, summarize learnings and assign accountabilities. Focus on resolving hurt feelings, being authentic, and acknowledging that everyone plays an important role. The team can achieve its potential only when all members feel safe, valued, and respected.

Agree on a plan and move on — Develop a plan that includes follow-up and checkpoints. Once a resolution has been agreed upon, remind those involved that they need to let go of their resentment, even if things do not go how they wanted. Reinforce the importance of not talking negatively about the resolution, as this can poison truth and relationships. Negative words and actions will undo all that was achieved in the resolution process. Everyone should work together to restore relationships and hold each other accountable for actions and learnings.

Below are some additional tips to help create conditions where everyone feels safe and supported.

Understand that everyone involved views the situation through a different lens. Each individual will view the problem uniquely and attach different meaning and weight to the exchange. Recognize that you can't fully understand someone else's experience. Implicit bias (i.e., unconscious thoughts) can blind you from fully appreciating the magnitude and impact, and your status can even influence your perception of the situation.

Seek to understand each individual's viewpoint and the lens they apply to the situation. For example, a black, neurodivergent, and non-binary employee experiences the world differently than a black, neurotypical female. This is neither good nor bad; it is what it is. There is no need to dance around the issue. Role-model vulnerability by asking open questions like, "Are there any inclusion, diversity, equity, or accommodation factors you believe would be helpful for me to appreciate your experience in this situation?" Understanding each person's view of the situation demonstrates your commitment to ensuring everyone feels valued and heard.

Assess energy and readiness to resolve the situation. Another critical factor for protecting psychological safety is ensuring everyone involved has the mental energy and is emotionally ready to deal with the situation. A worker languishing (feeling blah) and another flourishing (feeling strong and confident) are not on a level playing field. One party may need more space to calm their nervous system and recharge to engage in a conversation to deal with hurt feelings.

Recognize every worker is unique. Situations may trigger previous traumatic events. Be mindful that mental health can range from languishing to flourishing, impacting an individual's energy and ability to deal with unpleasant emotions. And be careful not to dismiss or devalue a worker's experiences. There may be circumstances where additional support is required. An employee may need peer or mental health professional support because a situation has brought up unpleasant, overwhelming emotions.

Remember, conflict is not always bad; it is often an opportunity to learn. Conflict resolution is not about right or wrong. It is about moving past hurt feelings and creating a solution in the best interest of individuals, the team, and the organization. Make sure everyone understands going into the process that resolution does not necessarily mean everyone will get everything they want. Use the opportunity to reinforce lessons learned and address hurt feelings so the team can resume collaborative interactions to achieve shared goals.

It is never easy resolving conflict, but it is essential if you are committed to creating and maintaining a psychologically safe workplace. Taking the time to address hurt feelings, restore relationships, instill accountability, and encourage learning will not only help the individuals involved in the moment but also equip them with critical skills they can apply in the future.

Get to know the author – Dr. Bill Howatt

 

 

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