While leading a team, I happened to spot a serious conflict between two peers. Both of them were very good at their work but were constantly bitching about each other. They never missed an opportunity. All this was happening in the shadows. They were also in the process of creating cliques within the larger team. This had been going on for quite some time before this issue reached me.
I thought of trying some one-on-one coaching before I could bring both of them together into one room.
I met both of them separately. They had been given sufficient notice for this meeting. I was sure they were ready with their juicy and gory details about each other.
Inside the meeting with the first person, at the outset, I quickly acknowledged the issue. As she was getting ready to ‘bitch’ about the other person, I requested her to tell me 3 positive things about the other person. I could see that she was completely taken aback and suddenly grew quiet. I asked her to come back into the room once she had her 3 points.
I did likewise with the other person. The response was predictable. She too was taken aback by this turn of events.
Anyway, on the next day, both of them met me separately and gave me 3 positive points each of the other person. I made my notes.
I then asked them to return with 3 more new positive points for each other. This took a little longer and they returned in a couple of days with the points. I added to my notes. In this meeting, before they left, I told both of them about the 3 positive points, the other person had said about them. In both cases, I thought I spotted a quick smile.
This continued for a week. By this time, I had received 12 positive points each for both of them. Not surprisingly, I saw some common points on both lists like Fun Person, Committed and Expert.
Now, I had my work cut out.
I spoke to both of them about a joint meeting. The plan was that both of them will look the other person in the eye and state, ‘I respect you for…’ and mention each of the 12 points. They would alternate giving each other a chance. This would mean 12 separate statements of respect coming from one to the other – in all, 24 statements of respect voiced in the room.
I loved the subsequent meeting. Their manager was there too. As they settled down and the process began, I realized that they were much more relaxed and seemed to be appreciative of each other. At the end, they shook hands and all of us went out for coffee.
The conflict had lost its edge. A reasonable working relationship between the two evolved later.
I had worked to a plan:
- People working in a team need to openly acknowledge each other’s strengths. The other person also needs to know.
- I had acknowledged that conflicts are natural without making them feel guilty about it.
- I wanted to put an end to the shadow-boxing approach. Now they also knew how I would handle a similar conflict in the future.
- In my experience, once you have said so many positives about the other person, it is difficult to now bitch about the same person.
- I wanted people to look the other person in the eye and make the statement. This makes them take responsibility for what they say. In this situation, though we had used the easier approach of using positive and respectful statements, the overall idea was to equip them to deliver constructive feedback also while looking the other person in the eye – this would, obviously, take time.
- I wanted to help them understand that in Conflict Resolution, you would do well to begin with points of convergence. In this case, the convergence was around them having spoken 12 positive points about each other and specifically, the common traits between the two lists.
As a Leader, I wanted to help them find another resourceful way to deal with each other. As they become skillful in the future, could they convey both positive and constructive feedback using a similar approach?
As Leaders, it is our role to help people go beyond what they have been comfortable with.
In this process, they grow.
Have you had to resolve such workplace conflicts? Happy to hear your views. You can write to me at [email protected] I have been getting a lot of comments from my readers.
‘Seeds’ is a new category on my website that contains my short-form articles.
By the way, did you get a chance to look at the new tab, ‘Services’, on my website?
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