Imagine the month of August in the American South: hot, humid, draining of all energy. Now picture a storm coming through one afternoon. Lightning, thunder, rain coming down for a couple hours. The storm passes and you go back outside. The temperature has dropped 5-10 degrees, but more noticeably the humidity has dropped significantly to where it’s pleasant.

 Now picture a work environment where there are two (or more) people who have conflict. There is a tension that is very uncomfortable for everyone. There may even be alliances formed where those surrounding the situation take sides, creating a more volatile environment. This leads to challenges getting any work done, and no one wants to start the ‘storm’ that so many know needs to happen to resolve the issue. Have you experienced this?

For most people, it’s human nature to avoid conflict. Many times, the lack of action creates another turbulent pocket where people say it’s not their responsibility to fix. These situations require a strong leader; a leader is not necessarily someone who manages a people, but someone who sees a problem and strives to fix it. What is it about those leaders that act to solve a problem?

What can you do to facilitate conversations to clear the air?

  1. Create perspective. Highlight the ‘bigger problem’ of the impact to the project or organization.
  2. Promote safe space. Gain agreement that conversation needs to happen leading to a resolution.
  3. Establish Ground Rules. Build the guardrails that frame the conversation. Should include things like non-judgmental, focus on problem not people, respect, etc.
  4. Obtain an impartial facilitator. If possible, have a strong facilitator who doesn’t have a bias toward the situation or people that can help keep the conversation moving forward.
  5. Create accountability. Generate a plan that documents decisions and agreements. Support this with a communication framework that supports transparency.

I would recommend this be done as early in the ‘storm’ as possible as there is less damage to work through. It is always difficult to initiate this but getting the focus on the bigger goals and away from an individual focus really helps. Just like with a thunderstorm, it is really uncomfortable to go through, but the other side is a much more pleasant environment.