Team Conflicts: How to Clear Mental Blocks, Stop Fights and Bring Back Good Times? Host a Listening Session

Imagine this. You have a critical project. The people with right expertise have been brought together.The project is in critical stage. All stakeholders know the members who are dedicated, hard working and have acquired very good skills. Suddenly you realize that there is great problem of misalignment, suspicion and fights. The fights erupt, become more open and direct. Your bandwidth is clogged in just listening to the complaints. If this goes on for few more days, your timeliness will not be met. Bad team atmosphere will kill the joy of working. What more .. your reputation will be at stake. Nobody wants to work for you due to bad environment.

Conflict-Resolution

What if the following happens all of a sudden?

1. They respect each other.

2. They trust each other. Believe that everyone is working for the project and cooperate among themselves.

3. As manager, you practically have no fire fighting to do. Just need to support in operations. Perhaps you can focus on creating value elsewhere while still officially managing the project.

Sounds like a dream? It is certainly possible. That’s what is this article about.

The Fix: Listening Session

  • One-on-one session. If more people are out of sync, then more one-one sessions.
  • Both parties talk openly and listen to each other. All the emotions and opinions are exchanged. But – strictly no conclusions are to be arrived at.
  • You are the moderator. Main job is to ensure that all the emotions, opinions and supporting incidents are shared between them.

The Cause As You Perceive

  • Ego clashes
  • Misinterpreting each other’s language, body language and other aspects of style
  • Snowballing effect of perceptions

Ground Rules

1. Do you trust their intentions ?

Both sides are putting their heart and soul at work. The issue is due to circumstances and misinterpretations. If it is about professional competition, you need to solve it differently. The technique here would work to clear emotional baggage, for sure.

If the parties are corporate politicians fighting turf wars then there are other tools.

2. Set meeting ground rules –

  • Only listening. Both parties are expected to listen to each other only. No clarifications after hearing the other person
  • Listening does not mean that either side is accepting what other person says
  • After listening, do not answer back or clarify. By letting the other person say, you have not agreed to anything.
  • Whoever talks, NEED NOT control emotions. Let all the rage and emotions come out.
  • Clearly state that the meeting contents are meant never to be discussed again. The points discussed, especially the new ones anyone says or hears are never meant to be used in performance appraisal discussions or systems.

3. Depending upon the situation, choose the right conference room.  Do not expose the scenes to people outside.

4. Reduce the stakes of the meeting: Inform the two parties that you are setting a session just to listen to each other.  Be prepare to speak the heart out. Also be prepared to listen to the other party. Assure that they need not decide anything. Just listening. No conclusions to be made. This reduces the stakes and anxiety. Also assure that the points that come out will not be used in appraisal discussions.

5. Moderate the session as necessary. Best case – you, as manager, never need to talk. However be prepared to talk if there is any violation of ground rules. Also it is ok to prompt whenever a person hesitates to open up in front of the ‘other party’. People would have complained enough about the other party to you in private. You could bring it up and help ‘healing’.

There are other reasons for conflicts. Major one being wrong job design. For doing it right, check this article.

The session will definitely lighten the hearts. The atmosphere will be much better after this session.

How is this different than critical conversations/ crucial confrontations

With critical conversations, the idea is to avoid being emotional and talk about issues. If such conversations do not happen, the perceptions build up and will lead to the scenarios I described. At this stage, the emotions are so high and prevent discussions of real issues. That’s why this is a handy tool.

Remember – It works.

Let me know your experiences after trying !

  • http://varnatantu.wordpress.com sindhoooo

    Very interesting article. I know little about management. Just keen to know how it works.

    I have a few doubts. Some people would open up, some others won’t. Some one might be right, and some other may be wrong. Some people may be stubborn. So, What would be the conclusion to the meeting in such cases? In case of no such problems, what could be the way to conclude?

    • Ishwara Bhat

      Thanks for the comment. The whole point is there is no conclusion to the meeting. When there is conclusion, then there is need to defend and manipulate. If whatever is spoken is never meant to be discussed again, referred again, then there is no need to manipulate. Even if someone manipulates, he or she will get nothing by doing so. Because we do not want to record the meeting in any way. It is to break the barriers and exchange.
      Having said this, it is the most difficult meeting to conduct. The one who conducts need to be trustworthy in the first place. Otherwise, this would not work. Whole point is to improve openness and mutual respect between people.

      • Ishwara Bhat

        Just to clarify further – we keep making conclusions on everything all the time. Further, it is ‘hardwired’ in us – to conclude meetings. Many times the arguments happen because we want to turn the conclusions in our favor. In the scenario I mentioned above, we do not need ‘public conclusions’. If there are no conclusions, we free up mind to listen to other person. Otherwise, mind will be busy creating defenses and we wont listen though we hear. Hence the guideline to avoid conclusions. After we listen, the conclusions still happen in our minds. Something like – ‘oh, the other person also is not bad. Even she does not have bad intentions. The fight is unnecessary.
        Driving this conclusion in everyone’s mind is the hidden motive of this session – without preaching it publicly.