There Are Two Sides to Every Story
You must understand both sides if you're going to resolve a conflict.
We have all had conflicts arise in the shop that leave you - and everyone else in the shop - feeling uncomfortable. So what is the best way to resolve the situation?
In this article we will explore a way to resolve a conflict so that both parties feel like they have been heard and the shop can get back to running the way we all want it to. The least effective way to deal with a conflict is to hope things will resolve themselves and life will get back to normal. In most cases, this is just our hope and not our reality.
As the employer, the whole shop is looking to you, the owner, to fix the problem. With broken cars in the bay, and all the other daily frustrations - including parts deliveries and impatient customers - it's easy for you to see those problems as taking priority. A conflict may seem like the least of your worries. But when there is a conflict, the whole shop suffers. Nothing hurts productivity more than an unresolved conflict.
Sometimes two employees are locked into a conflict. Other times, it is a conflict between the shop and the front office or service writer. It can even be a conflict between you and a business partner or family member in the business and you may think you have shielded the conflict from the shop. But this is where everyone comes to work every day, and they can feel the tension.
Ultimately it is up to you to resolve the problem. You may already have your hands full, but the false comfort of ignoring it and hoping for a magic resolution is just not the answer.
Conflict resolution has some guidelines that can help you sort things out without creating a disaster. Before any resolution can begin, the first question is one you have to ask yourself. What triggers you? Knowing your own issues can help you separate those from the issues at hand.
Conflict resolution is a set of skills we can all use every day. We all know when our adrenaline is in motion, and it is important to ask yourself, "Why am I feeling this way?" Or you may ask yourself, "Why are my employees feeling this way?" The most important step is to back away until you feel clear as to what or who is engaged and why.
All human beings have different triggers and identifying your own triggers and making some notes about "who, what and why" is the best place to start. Despite the drain on everyone's energy, it is important to determine these basic components. If you bypass this query, a blowup is inevitable.
Joan Webster, who is a conflict resolution coach, says, "Really listening is really understanding." But it is hard to step back and listen when you are frustrated and just want the problem to go away. She gives this as an example of really listening: "Think about when someone is giving you directions. You listen and you repeat what you have heard. You want to be sure you understand." This is a great mind image to use when you are trying to really listen.
The other piece of advice she offers is also valuable: Don't look for support from someone when you already know his or her answer or opinion. It is not helpful in resolving whatever you are dealing with. It only feels good.
In preparing to deal with conflict, it is mandatory to assume goodwill. Not only is it a tool to diffuse the situation, it is a great context to hold while you prepare yourself to confront what is going on. A key phrase to remember is, "I might have misunderstood you/or misunderstood the incident(s), so can you tell me how you see things?" This allows the discussion to open up and their side of things will be revealed. It is also the point where you can present your side of the story. If you are acting as the mediator, this will give you the crux of the problem. Just remember that you are now the neutral party.
In looking at both sides of the story, remember that there are roles in conflict. Is there a villain? Is there a victim? Who are you in the conflict? Knowing this is helpful in rethinking what is occurring. When looking at these roles, rather than at the person or persons involved, it is easier to see things clearly.
When you dissect the issues - using villain and victim - it sometimes becomes apparent that both parties feel like victims. Being a victim is the least powerful place to operate from. If you can identify that YOU feel like the victim, or are acting like the victim, you must get yourself to a neutral position.
In investigating a conflict, you must consider both sides of the story. Take time to tell yourself the story from the other person's point of view. This exercise will often diffuse anger, resentment and frustration. By focusing on the other person and not yourself for this exercise, you will discover more about what is really going on.
Once you have made the commitment to resolve the conflict, there are guidelines to assist you in being successful.
Anonymous complaints are not to be considered.
Answer the question, "Why is this important to me?"
Determine if this conflict is over content (what is being done), process (how it's being done), or interpretation (the meaning of what is happening).
If appropriate, get a reality check from a trusted third party. Exercise caution that you are not simply enlarging the conflict by enlisting friends who will just support "your side."
Arrange a mutually acceptable time and place to talk in private.
During the dialogue, listen intently for what you don't understand rather than what you disagree with.
Try to be descriptive rather than judgmental. Use "I" statements.
If you have heeded all of these precautions and followed the guidelines and discover that a direct conversation is too difficult, then both parties may put their report into writing to be read by the other person. A time should be set with a third party to be present when the reports are exchanged.
All of this work is to "generate options for resolution."
In conclusion, remember you will be most successful if you hold the spirit of "offering" something rather than "getting" something out of the resolution! Being "generous" is a positive action as opposed to "being right," which is a self-serving action.
Now, take your tools and communicate! Good luck!
Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2011, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
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