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Executive Communication Expert Dianna Booher

Should you step up or sit on the sidelines when personal conflicts flare and affect your group’s effectiveness? As a leader, you’ll look for ways to settle the issue before the two warring factions sink all ships.
• Ask for an invitation to help. For the most part, people don’t like others to intervene without permission. But if they seem incapable of coming to resolution, mention that you’ve noticed a difficulty or issue and then give them a choice with a question: “Do you think you can solve this matter by X date/X situation before we need to present this to our client, or do you need an objective outsider to help?”
• Refuse to “take sides.” Make it clear that you intend to work with both people. Point out that you may speak with them separately, and be upfront about the fact that you will pass along what each tells you to give the other person a chance to clarify any misconceptions.
• Pass along compliments and complaints between them. Sharing positive remarks adds credence to any negative comments. Your goal is to help each person see the merits in the other’s viewpoint.
• Point out miscommunications and misperceptions. Your key task will be to identify and point out wrong information, invalid assumptions, misjudged intentions, and inappropriate or incorrect conclusions. When things stall, remind both people of common goals. Ask each to suggest their own solutions to the situation—without injecting your own agenda.
• Create opportunities for them to keep the lines of communication open. Look for ways to have them interact positively with each other on occasion for short durations. You’ll be seen as the pivotal person who can hold sparring factions together to complete important work.
While few people like to deal with conflict of their own—much less take on conflict between coworkers or staff—leaders know that’s simply part of the path to success.

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