After Tool # Four Life

Now what? You have the full scoop on The Four Tools of Conflict Management. If you are using these tools there are three primary potential outcomes. The common factor in each outcome is the follow through that you will initiate.

The Best Case Scenario

First, is the outcome that results from mutual cooperation and participation in the process. If the person or persons you enter into this process with cooperate, progress is made one intentional step at a time. Each time there is mutual agreement on what to do next, more conflict is managed and it is actually possible for the conflict that initiated the conversation to be resolved. In this scenario all parties involved learn conflict management skills. You learn them from leading the process. Others learn from your example. Dealing with conflict in the future will be easier because everyone has gained skill. The outcome can be significantly reduced tension in the workplace or relationship and significantly increased enjoyment of the relationship  or work environment. This, of course, is the most desirable outcome. However, it is not the outcome all the time.

It Could Take Longer But Keep at It

A second outcome also results from cooperation with the initial conversation. Progress is made, however, using the four tools reveals that the conflict is more complex and deeper than you originally understood. So the other party or parties cooperate, but the management of the conflict will take longer and might require additional interventions or additional resources. This outcome, though not as quickly satisfying, can still be very satisfying in the longer term process. The good news is that you have identified conflict that was not known before but was very likely compromising relationships and productivity in the workplace. This is hard news, but good news. There is hope for continued management and eventual resolution as long as the other person or persons continue to agree to cooperate in the longer process. After each next step is agreed upon, a time is set to evaluate the outcome using the same four tools.

When They Refuse But You Don’t Lose

The third outcome is when the other person or persons refuse to cooperate. This often happens if the conflict is much deeper and more complex than it was originally thought to be or when the conflict is rooted primarily in a personality clash. Another frequent cause of the person or persons involved refusing to cooperate is because of personal reasons out of your control. These circumstances make them, at least for the time, incapable of cooperating in this process. Perhaps they are going through a acrimonious divorce, or they are on the verge of bankruptcy, or perhaps they have a very ill child or other family member at home. Whatever the reason, they do not have the mental or emotional energy to deal with conflict management in the workplace or in this particular relationship with you. Whether it is a personal or a professional relationship, this will require a decision on your part.  You will have to decide what step YOU are going to take next and what the consequences will be for the  relationship or relationships involved. The consequences in a personal relationship depends on how willing and able you are to set boundaries. It may mean removing yourself from the relationship altogether, or just limiting the time and circumstances for the relationship. For the professional workplace it depends upon how much authority or responsibility you have in the situation, but it will still involve setting boundaries of some kind. Different companies have different personnel policies that have to be followed. But almost all of them involve some kind of notification and opportunity to re-mediate when conflict is impacting the workplace. Unfortunately this road can lead to notice of termination.

An Example

I worked with one office employee for over a year using these four tools. This employee cooperated but the same conflict issues continued to show up in this employee’s relationships with other employees. Finally, they emerged in this employee’s relationship  with me. I had documented everything, consulted with employment legal services, and then presented a final plan for managing the conflict. The document included clear expectations and consequences and clearly stated that failure to meet the expectations would result in immediate termination. I  had even calculated the final paycheck due this employee, including in-lieu-of payment. I had the check in the file folder with my notes to give the employee if they refused to cooperate and immediate termination was necessary.

In this case and at this stage in the conflict management the first and last tool were used simultaneously. I had learned enough through the process now to know that I was not wrong, so there was no need for me to do the second step. And this employee had lost the right to be heard any longer, so the third step was no longer necessary either. I clearly stated what the purpose was (tool #1) for our conversation and what the next step (tool #4) would be which depended on whether or not she cooperated or complied with the expectation. The purpose was to inform this employee of the expectations (boundaries) and the consequences of workplace behavior.

This outcome is hard. But, even in this difficult territory you can continue to build significant skills that will serve you well in managing conflict.

Using the Tools? Let Me Know

There are many other conflict management systems out there.  They all include sequential steps similar to these I have shared with you. From years of experience learning and using many of the systems in both personal and professional settings, in secular and church environments, I have simply attempted here to sift the primary principles down into very concrete and very simple language. I want them to be accessible for anyone who recognizes they need help to manage conflict. I hope you have found them helpful and I hope you will comment below if you have used them. I hope you will keep a reference copy of the four tools, hard or electronic, handy so that you can use them in the future.

If I Can Be of Service

Wherever you are in response to these tools, remember, conflict does not just go away.  And you will never be conflict free. Intentional and skillful dealing with conflict will help you manage it and can make your life and work environment much more productive and enjoyable. Using these tools can help you  accomplish both.

I am available for personal and professional coaching for conflict management. Contact me for information if I can be of service to you or your team.

Written by Candie

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