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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Right Way to Fight

Differences of opinion at work are inevitable and often integral to innovation, problem-solving, and performance improvement. But knowing that most clashes have benefits does not make them any easier to manage. Disagreements with coworkers can be uncomfortable, and if handled poorly, result in unproductive and even harmful conflict. The good news is that, with a little planning, you can avoid a fight and find an answer that everyone agrees on.
Below are some guidelines to help you turn a negative situation into a positive one.
  • Prepare
Being prepared for a dispute requires knowing your own position and trying to better understand your coworker's. 
First, acknowledge the type of disagreement you are having and check with your coworker that he sees it the same way.
Regardless of the nature of the quarrel, try to leave your emotions at the door. "Disagreements are best solved through objectivity rather than emotions," 
Preparation also includes careful consideration of logistics. Schedule your meeting so you will have enough time to reach a conclusion. Be sure the conversation can happen face to face in a private setting. Don't try to solve differences using email, which does not do a good job of conveying tone or nuance.
  • Identify common ground 
To start a difficult conversation the right way, it's important for you and your coworker to identify something you agree on. This may be a common goal or a set of operating rules that you consent to. Try saying something like: "We both want to develop a plan that will take our company to the next level," or "We said we would be thorough about this decision." Be sure that the common ground is something your colleague genuinely cares about, and not something you think he should. Before moving on, check for your coworker's agreement. You may also want to reassure him that you value your relationship. This will reassure him that your point of contention is not a personal one.
  • Hear your coworker out 

Even if you think you already understand your coworker's perspective, you should hear what he/ she has to say. Ask questions that help you fully understand her point of view and determine whether your disagreement is a function of differing interests or differing perceptions. According to Weiss, this requires that you "stop figuring out your next line" and actively listen. Don't just hearing her story but take it in as well. Remain open to persuasion since your coworker's explanation of her side may uncover an important piece of information that leads to a resolution.

Once you've heard your coworker out, share your own story. This should not be done in a "point, counter-point" way, but should focus on helping your coworker see where you're coming from. If she challenges your interpretation, let her vent and express her frustration.
  • Propose a resolution 
When all of the data is on the table, offer a resolution. Don't propose what you walked in the door with, but use the information you gathered during your conversation to come up with a better solution. Say to your coworker, "You've said A, and I've said B, perhaps we can consider solution C." "Don't assume a combative stance," says White. If he isn't happy with the solution you've put out there, engage him in a problem-solving process to come up with a result you can both live with.
  • When it goes badly... 
Even with a well thought-out approach, some disagreements turn ugly. "Most often these conversations turn into battles when it gets personal." If your exchange becomes heated, bring the conversation back to your shared interests or goals. Re-focus the dialogue on the future. "You can't resolve a battle over a problem that has already happened, but you can set a course going forward," says White.
If your coworker is antagonistic or aggressive, it may be best to take a break from the conservation. You can either literally step out of the room or pause mentally pause to observe the course of the conversation. This "outsider" observation can help you gain perspective on what's really going on. You may also try changing the process: step up to the white board, take out a piece of paper to brainstorm, or even offer to continue the discussion over drinks or dinner. This can help to alter the dynamic that's developed between you. If all else fails, withdraw and find a third person to mediate.
Principles to Remember
Do:
  • Focus on shared goals and interests
  • Understand the nature of your disagreement before meeting with your coworker
  • Remain open to persuasion







Don't:
  • Assume you fully understand your colleague's perspective
  • Try to solve a disagreement over email
  • Stop your coworker from venting his frustrations

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