Resolving Conflict and Moving Forward

November 30, 2008

An executive in Europe was put in charge of a major project for her company. The project involved multiple offices and a number of key players. She wasn’t involved for very long before she found herself engulfed in conflict and at risk. Not good for an upward career path.

She found her way to me for some problem solving and communications counsel.

When we met up over the telephone, she briefed me on the situation and the “cast of characters”. There was a lot of negativity in her description. The negative feelings she had seemed to block a clear perspective and, therefore, a constructive way to resolve the escalating conflicts.

I had learned a neat technique during a negotiating course at Harvard Law School and with my client’s permission we used it to re-analyze the situation she had just described. We used role reversal.

I asked the client to go back through each of the characters and tell me what they would say, in their words, about her. She did.

In so doing, her tone changed. She became more empathetic to each character’s situation and mindset. We explored some characters more than others, but we covered them all.

I didn’t have to tell her what to do. She was ahead of me. She “saw” her way forward. It was one of the options she had been mulling over but in which she had not had confidence. Her mind seemed to unblock. There was a confidence and energy in her voice. She was in a hurry to get off the phone and get on with taking actions to solve the problems.

All of that took one hour. She had spent that time actively “listening” to the critical players, even though they weren’t on the call. She had interrogated them on their feelings and thinking and objectives, based on her knowledge. She had developed a new perspective on the conflict and quickly selected the actions that she now knew would begin to drive toward a solution.

Is it working? I asked her later. She said this: 
“Yes, I am happy to tell you that there has been some progress in the
last week or so.  I don’t think that I am out of the woods yet, but
there is a clear improvement.”

Thinking “out of the box”, in my opinion, is achieved by adding new information or stimuli to help us achieve a new perspective or “see” a solution that is not the one that is blocking progress.

Listening, using a variety of techniques, is one very effective way to add that new information or stimuli. And if you can’t seem to do it on your own, or do it well, get some help from someone with objectivity.

Copyright November 2008