Managing Conflict Between Direct Reports

Adrianne Geiger Dumond

 

One of the most worrisome tasks of a manager is managing conflict between direct reports – especially when it spills over into the staff. Rather than ignoring the situation, here are some steps to take to lessen the toll on everyone, and it is a manager’s responsibility to be held accountable.

Step 1: Setting the tone for a meeting: Preparing for a meeting requires a boss to think objectively, be open-minded about rumors and accusations, look only for the facts. For example: “I have called us together today to discuss the differences you two have, to try to understand what is going on, and to see what we can agree upon going forward. I am concerned for you and how it is affecting our team. I know how committed each of you is to the mission, so I hope we can find some agreement. Are you willing to try?”

 Step 2: Fact Finding: “ I think it might be helpful if you explained what the differences or disagreements are about. I ask each of you to tell us as objectively, clearly and specifically as you can, your perspective on the conflict. Afterward, each of you may ask the other any questions you have. Who would like to go first?” (If this goes well, thank them for their openness and candor. The manager’s job at this point is to push for clarity, remain open-minded and be supportive of the effort.)

Step 3: Describing today’s agenda: “ Now let’s see if we can find some solutions. I would like each of you to think a minute, and then tell us (a) what you admire about the other person, then (b) what you would like to see them do differently, or stop doing, and (c) WHY. After each has finished this part, the other person may ask questions for clarity – no reasons yet, just questions. Are you comfortable doing this? If not, please tell us why.” (Sometimes, just reassurance from the boss – especially for confidentiality – helps the process move on.)

Step 4: Seeking Agreement: This section seeks a list of actions and behaviors that each party might subscribe to that would lessen the tension between the two.  Identify potential points of agreement and areas of disagreement. Push for possible solutions that might satisfactorily resolve the conflict in a constructive way.

Step 5: Verify Solutions: Together, select solutions that meet all parties’ needs. Remember this might require some compromises, but all are aware of the positions taken. Changes can occur as goals are set and reviewed at a later date.

Step 6: Establish an Action Plan:  Each person develops an action plan with specific actions and behaviors that both are willing to take to implement the solutions. Agree to meet again in the not too distant future to review the plan and make any adjustments. Again, thank them for helping solve the conflict and reassure them you are always available to meet further.

Author:  Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org