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To tame warring parties, withhold your suggestions

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

You’re a take-charge personality who enjoys solving problems decisively. That serves you well most of the time.

When you mediate conflict among employees, however, your eagerness to act can work against you. People engaged in heated arguments are often unwilling to comply with even the most reasonable solutions from a well-meaning supervisor.

Rather than make suggestions, dig for information. Adopt the role of friendly inquisitor. Find out what drives an employee’s frustrations and the outcome each combatant wants.

Some people will invite your suggestions. They’ll defend their actions and then ask, “Well, what do you think? What would you do?”

Don’t fall into the trap of answering. Instead, keep the focus on them: their fears, goals and concerns.

The danger of offering suggestions is that you wind up assuming responsibility for a dispute that doesn’t—and shouldn’t—involve you. It may seem sensible to advise a staffer to “try changing your work routine to stay out of Jim’s way” or “try explaining your position more clearly.” But once you dish out advice, many employees will turn their ire toward you.

“I tried that,” they may say in an aggrieved tone. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?”

Suddenly, the dynamic of the conversation changes for the worse. You’re butting heads with someone rather than helping calm a rattled disputant.

When you’ve exhausted your questions, stop and say, “Let’s figure out how to resolve this.” Then stop.

By pausing, you give your employee a chance to propose solutions or at least reveal underlying concerns that relate to the conflict. That’s when you uncover the most valuable information.


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