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M2.04 Conducting the mentoring process

9. Conflict resolution theory, methods and models that can be used during the mentoring process

A process to respond to and resolve conflicts should be defined.
We want to introduce the "Interest-Based Relational Approach (IBR)". This type of conflict resolution respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position.
In resolving conflict using this approach, you follow these rules:

Make sure that good relationships are the first priority: As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and that you try to build mutual respect. Do your best to be courteous to one-another and remain constructive under pressure.

Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just "being difficult" – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships.

Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: By listening carefully you'll most-likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position.

Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position.

Set out the "Facts": Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision.

Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.

By following these rules, you can often keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike which so-often causes conflict to spin out of control.

 A Conflict Resolution Process

Based on this approach, a starting point for dealing with conflict is to identify the overriding conflict style employed by yourself, your team or your organization. Over time, people's conflict management styles tend to mesh, and a "right" way to solve conflict emerges. It's good to recognize when this style can be used effectively, however make sure that people understand that different styles may suit different situations. Look at the circumstances, and think about the style that may be appropriate. Then use the process below to resolve the conflict:

Conflict resolution process (free adaptation of IBR Approach)

Step One: Set the Scene
If appropriate to the situation, agree the rules of the IBR Approach (or at least consider using the approach yourself.) Make sure that people understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which may be best resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than through raw aggression. If you are involved in the conflict, emphasize the fact that you are presenting your perception of the problem. Use active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand other's positions and perceptions.
  • Restate.
  • Paraphrase.
  • Summarize.
  • And make sure that when you talk, you're using an adult, assertive approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style.
Step Two: Gather Information
Here you are trying to get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns. Ask for the other person's viewpoint and confirm that you respect his or her opinion and need his or her cooperation to solve the problem. Try to understand his or her motivations and goals, and see how your actions may be affecting these. Also, try to understand the conflict in objective terms: Is it affecting work performance? Damaging the delivery to the client? Disrupting team work? Hampering decision-making? Or so on. Be sure to focus on work issues and leave personalities out of the discussion.
  •  Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person's point of view.
  •  Identify issues clearly and concisely.
  •  Use "I" statements.
  •  Remain flexible.
  •  Clarify feelings.
Step Three: Agree the Problem
This sounds like an obvious step, but often different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive problems very differently. You'll need to agree the problems that you are trying to solve before you'll find a mutually acceptable solution. Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems – if you can't reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very least, you need to understand what the other person sees as the problem.

Step Four: Brainstorm Possible Solutions
If everyone is going to feel satisfied with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, including ones you never considered before.

Step Five: Negotiate a Solution By this stage, the conflict may be resolved: Both sides may better understand the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all. However you may also have uncovered real differences between your positions. This is where a technique like win-win negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, at least to some extent, satisfies everyone.

There are three guiding principles here: Be Calm, Be Patient and Have Respect.


Three guiding principles (free elaboration)


Key Points
Conflict in the workplace can be incredibly destructive to good teamwork. Managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in situations where co-operation breaks down and the team's mission is threatened. This is particularly the case where the wrong approaches to conflict resolution are used. To calm these situations down, it helps to take a positive approach to conflict resolution, where discussion is courteous and non-confrontational, and the focus is on issues rather than on individuals. If this is done, then, as long as people listen carefully and explore facts, issues and possible solutions properly, conflict can often be resolved effectively.