Four Steps to Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

In a recent interview that I conducted, which was published in the most recent edition of the Solar Review, Jordan Weisman, owner and founder of Sunbridge Solar, referred to some challenges he'd had around building a thriving company culture.  Regarding some interpersonal challenges with some of his employees, he said that "when you're dealing with people or any relationship really, there are ways to talk about and handle things, and ways not to. Even if you have the best intentions of being open," he continued, "sometimes it still just doesn't work because you're dealing with a person who reacts in certain ways."

Jordan addresses a very valid and common conern. How do we navigate interpersonal conflict when it arises in our teams? 

In my work with solar companies, I address this very challenge. As humans, we are clearly quite complicated and bring a variety of perspectives and needs to the table. There are bound to be disagreements in our interactions with others, and when we can smooth out the resolution process, both business and culture can thrive. 

The following 4 steps can support you in navigating the next conflict that arises on your team:

  1. Listen curiously.
  2. Highlight similarities. 
  3. Appreciate difference.
  4. Generate resolution.

Listening in the truest sense of the word can be really difficult, particularly for leaders. Most of us have our own internal dialogue running while others are speaking -- as unaware of this as we may be --and this tends to strongly influence the way we hear others. But when we can be curious about others and what they are saying, our listening changes. And this, on its own, has the ability to change the way that the other person is speaking, which can then directly affect the outcome of the conflict, right from the start. 

Highlighting similarities may seem counterintuitive, particularly in the beginning of a conflict, but when you can do this successfully, the people in conflict are able to feel more connected. This, as with listening, has the potential to benefit the outcome before even addressing solutions. According to renowned psychologist, Daniel Goleman, we are wired to connect--it's in our DNA. When we can come at conflict from this place, possibilities are created that can't begin to exist in disconnection.

The third step, appreciating difference, is where you dive into the heart of the conflict. If you can take on a perspective of appreciation, really attempting to understand and feel what it might be like to be the other person, specifically around what has them so angry, frustrated, or otherwise upset, the resolution process can often work itself out. You don't have to agree with what they're saying, or even like it, but appreciation is neither of those things. It's simply understanding from a place of compassion. Giving each person's struggle attention for time that it needs to be heard, understood and valued. This can make a huge difference.

Once the parties involved have had a chance to share, and each feels heard and appreciated for their perspective, the options for generating resolution are far greater. It's likely that proposed solutions have come up along the way, which you can refer to as possibilities in the mix, or perhaps just the process of listening and appreciating has done the work of resolution for you. Regardless, mapping out a plan that will work 'well enough' for both people, at least for now, can be very helpful.

It can be valuable to remember, in the process of facilitation, that there is no right or wrong answer, and solutions aren't forever. I find it valuable to propose a 'for now' solution, one that can be revisited with time and communication.