Today, employees at all levels in organizations find themselves in an unprecedented time of increasing pressure to respond to the global Covid-19 virus pandemic. Demands for high quality products and services and the fear of catching the disease are daily challenges. Professionals in organizations often find themselves rushing through their job with too little sleep and under extraordinary pressure to be the perfect employee, parent, and friend. Is it any wonder that under these difficult conditions professionals in all walks of life face increasing levels of stress and conflict at home, work, and in their personal lives? As coaches, we need to be aware of the full demands on our clients.
Stress and Conflict
Hyper-stress occurs when too many tasks, responsibilities and uncertainties pile up and we are unable to adapt or cope with these changes. The source of hyper-stress can be too many competing deadlines at work and home, or unusual life situations such as we find ourselves in today. Hyper-stress can cause physical and chemical reactions in the body and can easily lead to conflict with others as our level of energy decreases and our anxiety increases. Someone who is in a state of hyper-stress may inadvertently cause a conflict simply because they are worried about a sick friend or parent, concerned about their job or ability to pay for rent or basic necessities.
Conflict Resolution Process
A simple and very effective method for reducing stress and resolving conflicts is to follow a simple four-step process that called the Conflict Mediation Process. To solve a conflict and reduce stress, I work with individuals or groups by literally ‘mapping out’ the conflict by walking the client through the questions above and writing the responses on a piece of paper, flipchart or whiteboard so everyone can see what was said. I have also found that it is best to follow the steps in order in a clockwise fashion.
Step One – Identify the Conflict
The first step in the conflict mediation process is to come to an agreement regarding the nature of the conflict. It is not uncommon for one person to view a conflict or opportunity one way while another person sees it as something else. Keep in mind that those affected by a conflict might include the individuals or groups most intimately involved in the conflict, but also include other key stakeholders who may or may not be present such as other employees, customers, suppliers, family members, etc.
Step 2 – Identify Concerns, Needs and Motivations
Everyone has their own view of what is the conflict, problem or opportunity, and each person also has what they believe is a good reason for feeling that way. In other words, they have concerns, needs or motivations that influence how they feel about the conflict and possible solution. We often avoid taking time to determine why someone feels the way they do. Taking time to allow others to clarify their needs or motivations helps enhance understanding which leads to greater trust and empathy.
Step 3 – Identify Goals
Once the other person’s concerns and needs are understood, you can move to the third step in the conflict mediation process – goal setting. At this point, you can explain your goals and let others clarify their goals. The desired outcome of this step is to make everyone’s goals explicit and understood. It does not mean you agree with each other goals, but you understand them. By making goals explicit, it is easier to sort through them and achieve a ‘win-win’ solution with the other person or team.
Step 4 – Action Plan
Once the people in conflict have come to an agreement about the nature of the conflict, clarified their needs, motives or concerns, and expressed their goals, it is appropriate to develop a plan for action. Clarifying each other’s desired actions is beneficial because even when we have the same goal, there may be more than one way of achieving that goal. For example, you and I might agree that we both want to go to lunch together, but have very different ideas about which restaurant to go to, what time to go, who to invite to come with us, and what we want to eat.
Turning Conflict into Cooperation
I have found that the Conflict Mediation Process described above provides the coach with an effective method for resolving the conflicts that may act as barriers to effective communication and understanding which can cause employees stress and frustration. Conflict is an inevitable part of our lives, but conflict does not have to mean long-term discord or diminished relationships. By coaching others to understand and apply this simple model, your clients can enhance their skills at resolving conflicts. The result will be that the level of unproductive conflict and stress in their organizations and personal lives can be reduced. By understanding and applying the Conflict Mediation Process, you can consistently turn conflict into opportunities for continued cooperation and reduced stress.