Once you’re working your way toward agreement, and once you have mutual respect and the necessary data in hand, a kind of horse-trading often takes place: “I’m willing to compromise on these dates and give you a little extra time if you’re willing to adjust the design specs and add in a couple of the improvements our customers requested.”
As you’re considering new potential outcomes together and negotiating the specifics, keep in mind that you’re looking for everyone to come out well — even if the win is only that everyone was treated with respect, got to voice their opinions completely, and had the chance to sign on as full participants to whatever the final agreement turns out to be.
One of the best ways to help build agreement is to make room for all participants to have a hand in crafting the new terms. It’s not enough to offer the others options of what you’re willing to give or scenarios you can envision. Help them work with you to create the options. Otherwise, when it comes down to making decisions and drawing lines, they may reject all of your options as being all yours, self-serving, only good for you, and insist on something non-collaborative — or they may leave the discussion altogether.
Clearing the Air Post-Conflict
After a tentative agreement has been reached, it’s good practice to clarify your commitments in an escalating series from a brief, private, verbal statement sealed with a nod to a formally documented and public declaration that includes the setting of milestones and checkpoints.
If the conflict occurred between two people behind closed doors with no one else involved, it’s usually sufficient to resolve the matter and leave no one else the wiser. You may not need any public hoopla. Of course, you might also apologize and shake hands if such actions are consistent with your relationship and with the intensity of the conflict, although this may not be necessary either.
But if the conflict occurred within a group or across departments, it can take significantly more planning and ceremony to set things back on the right path, even when you’ve already tacitly agreed to change your behaviors or approach. You may want to consider a harmonizing ritual such as holding departmental meetings at which the agreement is announced to each “side,” followed by a facilitated interdepartmental meeting in which each group presents its commitment to the forward actions and there’s a formal joint summary of the milestones to be accomplished, the process and procedures to be adjusted, and the method the larger group will use to evaluate its progress.
Conflict Resolution Deserves Rewarding
It’s particularly important to publicize the milestone points and to celebrate each bit of progress; this is a way to remind everyone how far they’ve come and how much improvement has been made. Praising all participants and expressing gratitude for the achievement helps set comity and mutual compromise as institutional models for the future. Truly overcoming conflict, no matter how apparently petty, and being able to work in concert, cognizant of each other’s norms and needs, is a significant accomplishment and should not go unacknowledged.
Onward and upward,