Facilitation Model: Manage the Discussion

The second step to properly resolve a conflict is to manage the discussion, which starts with establishing protocol.  This means setting out the ground rules for the discussion.  State these rules upfront, and get both parties to agree to them before proceeding.

Four good rules are:

  1. One person talks at a time.
  2. Only discuss verifiable facts.
  3. When one person finishes their side of the story the facilitator will summarize what was said and get agreement that the summary was accurate.
  4. Repeat the process for the other side.

When these rules are established your employees are more likely to feel that the process is fair.  Once the rules are set, your job is to remind either party as necessary about the ground rules when they are violated.

Some tips for mediating the discussion are:

  1. You should avoid becoming emotionally involved in the conflict.  If you find yourself siding with one employee or another, you need to take a step back  and settle yourself down.  Remember that you are not a party to the conflict and your job is to help your employees solve their problem, not take sides. If you do take sides, you remove the perception of fairness from both parties.
  2. You should be alert for defensive behavior.  A common reaction to conflict is the “fight or flight response.”  When one employee is dominating the conversation they may be exhibiting a fight response.  If this happens, slow them down and allow the other person to respond to what they are saying.  When an employee is agreeing with everything the other is saying, they may be exhibiting a flight response. They may simply be so uncomfortable with the conversation that they desire to remove themselves from the conflict situation as fast as they can.  Either reaction is a barrier to properly resolving the conflict.
  3. Active listening skills are critical. Hopefully, you’ll remember what active listening is from the module on communication. If not, do some research to refresh yourself on what active listing means and how to apply it. If something sounds unclear, ask questions that will clarify a point.  If things get a little confusing, stop the discussion for a minute and paraphrase what you are hearing.  When possible, highlight behaviors involved, and work to discriminate between the intent of the behavior, and the interpretation of that intent by the other party.
  4. Observe your employee’s body language.  Pay attention to defensive behavior and cues that something is being left unsaid.  Arms crossed and a defiant look on the face indicate the person may not be open to what is being discussed. Looking out the window or not looking the other person in the eyes could indicate a “flight” response – the person just wants out of the conversation. Prompt your employees to completely explore their issue so that their solution is a full reckoning of your employees’ conflict.  Having said that, be careful not to expand the conversation far beyond the scope of the conflict.

Manage the Discussion