By Diana Jones and Cher Williscroft

Rumi, the 12th Century Persian poet and Sufi master said:

“ Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong‑doing, there is a field. I will meet you there. It’s the world full of things to talk about. ”

There is no difference today.

Leaders don’t lead transformation any more than they can lead a river.  What leaders have to do is learn to navigate the rapids.

Here are some tips for resolving the inevitable interpersonal and intergroup conflicts that arise:

The first principle of handling conflict at a distance is:  

  • Have a plan … always have a plan.
    Certain sequences work better than others. This is not a time to trust in your intuition or your old ways of doing things. Without a clear plan, and clear purpose, things will not go well.
  • If you want to be successful, follow the structure we have outlined and use this Preparation Sheet.

Now apply Cher’s 7 steps:

1. Warm people up so they are ready to engage.

Ensure the outcome is in their best interests, not just in yours.  Ask yourself ‘what’s in it for them? Why would they want to engage with me?

Find an opening sentence that helps a person to know that you have their interests at heart.  For instance, if you have a difference with a team member you might say “I know you are keen for us to be a strong team together and to do that we need to understand our differences as well as our similarities. I’d like to bring up an area of difference and I trust we can work with it together.”

2. Ensure the other person is ready to receive your message by meta-communicating about the structure for the conversation.

This will help you both to stay relaxed and composed. For instance, say something like:

Let’s talk about that now, what I’d like to do is describe what I’m observing, and then I’d like to hear from you. I’ll listen to you carefully and then we can talk about impacts and solutions, and how we’ll go forward.”

3. After your initial invitation, let the person know what you have observed. This is exactly what you have observed without any blame, assumptions, and interpretations “I’ve noticed …”

If it helps, very briefly state your concern – the exact impacts will be expressed after this step.

  • Always ask the other person for a response
    • Seek to understand
    • Listen very carefully
    • Paraphrase what you’re hearing from their point of view, even if you disagree

4. Acknowledge anything you’ve done or not done that might have contributed to the situation.

5. Depending on what you hear, let them know the impacts of their behaviour, on you, the other person and anyone else in the organisation. Don’t express your feelings first. Leave them until you’ve heard from the other person.  Your feelings are simply impacts based on your interpretation and they may change as you start to understand the other person’s perspective.

6. Lastly reach solutions going forward by identifying what each of you are prepared to do differently going forward.

7. Always articulate the agreements made by saying:
I’m now going to summarise – we’ve agreed that from now on you will . . .  and I will . . .

It’s wise to use the provided Prep Sheet to plan your conversation as most people don’t handle ‘conflict off the cuff’ very well.

Other principles:

  • Ask yourself who the conflict is with, and in which relationship should this be resolved – my colleague or my boss? Keep your communication direct by avoiding communication triangles as they are a virus in organisation cultures and create toxic environments.
  • Be aware that your feelings are based on your interpretations of events or your assumptions. Be aware of what interpretations, rationalisation and assumptions you are making of the events or behaviour.

Your demeanour matters !

  • Look people in the eye. Look right into the camera and be personable, curious and forthright. Of course, it is weird, because you can’t see if your colleague, manager or team member is looking back at you. Be confident your intention can be easily read. Approach the other with the principle of Best Possible Interpretation (BPI) –  interpret the other’s behaviour in the best possible way.
  • Learn how to stay composed by relaxing your body and rebooting your brain so you pause and operate from your neocortex rather than react.

There are big advantages by learning to resolve conflicts online.  You can do this !