Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Resolving Conflict

I've written about leading change, managing personnel transitions and the next in this series is resolving conflict. Most people do not enjoy conflict and want highly contentious situations to resolve themselves. Sometimes this works and some times it ends in chaos. I am convinced that to be a successful CIO, you must embrace conflict.

Here's the approach I use to resolving conflict.

1. Listen before talking. I find that many conflicts are the result of poor communication. Just understanding the issue deeply can resolve many conflicts. Being proactive by learning more about controversial situations early in the conflict is much easier than getting involved after the situation escalates.

2. Never use email to resolve complex issues. Anytime I receive more than 3 successive email exchanges about an issue, I call a "time out" and schedule a meeting or conference call.

3. Pick up the phone to diffuse emotion. Anytime I receive an emotional email, I do not respond via email. I pick up the phone, even if I know the conversation will be painful. Most people react differently in a person to person conversation than in email.

4. Never send an emotional email or make an emotional statement. If I ever feel a negative emotion while writing an email, I save as draft. Although an emotional email may feel like an effective weapon, it only wins the battle not the war. Emails last forever, can be circulated widely and make conflict resolution much harder in the long run. My experience with emotion, written or spoken, is that no one who responds to any issue with anger looks good while doing it. Those with polished executive presence are always emotionally neutral when dealing with conflict.

5. Talk a walk in the woods, a technique named after a famous story in which international negotiators at loggerheads over a nuclear arms treaty went for a walk in the woods near Geneva and discovered common interests that led to new solutions. The four negotiation steps developed by the Harvard Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution are:

Step one: self interests. Each participant articulates his or her view of key problems, issues, and options. Stakeholders are encouraged to actively listen, question, and interact with one another.

Step two: enlarged interests. The participants reframe their understanding of current problems and possible options with a wider perspective, based on the integrative listening and confidence-building that occurred in step one.

Step three: enlightened interests. The group is ready to engage in innovative thinking and problem-solving, generating ideas and perspectives that had not previously been considered.

Step four: aligned interests. Participants build common ground perspectives, priorities, action items, agreement, or plans for moving forward. Depending on the scope of the intended objectives, at this point they recognize the tangible contributions and opportunities accomplished through the meeting.

My "walks in the woods" usually take place at the Elephant Walk Restaurant on Beacon Street in Boston, so if you ever see someone dressed in all black eating a vegan meal at the Elephant Walk, it's a good guess that I'm resolving conflict!


jwh said...

Another item to consider as part of the conflict resolution approach is the person's "point of pain". Sometimes the emotional component is only marginally related to the content and it takes a deeper dive to figure out what the true issue is. Often addressing that issue is the key to the content piece and without it, the straightforward approach may not work.

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DrYang@Blogger said...

Thanks! It really helps to walk in the woods!