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    The diplomatic approach

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    The workplace can be filled with tricky social and corporate decisions. Here, Sue France tells you how to resolve difficult situations with tact. When you enter into any conflict situation, you have to know what outcome you want; it is not about blame, but instead finding a solution and looking to the future. At all times you should keep your confidence, remain calm and professional and be authentic, honest and assertive. There are five stages to conflict resolution:

    Asking what the situation is
    Simply stating what you believe the situation to be and asking the other person how they perceive it can clear up the majority of conflicts.

    Clarification and finding common ground
    Often people get upset because they believe you have not heard them properly. Try to listen actively and ask questions. You should summarise their points, state what you think their concerns are and wait for clarification. Then remind them where you have common ground, such as a goal you are both aiming for, or a time you achieved something together: “In the past we worked well together on the Richmond project…” for instance.

    Reasoning, persuading and understanding
    Explain with clarity how you feel in order to bring the other person round to your way of thinking, or at least to where you can come to a collaborative decision. Find out how he or she feels about the situation as often as possible.

    You can also apply pressure by letting them know how important it is to you and asking what is getting in the way of them agreeing. Clarify what you will have to do if they aren’t able to compromise.

    Finally, you may need to involve others in finding a solution and get their buy-in by offering incentives or asking if there is anything you can do for them in return.

    Arriving at a solution – proposing a win:win scenario
    Once you have agreed to reach a solution, state what you want the final outcome to be. Then, after listening to and understanding your colleague’s point of view and desired result, find a collaborative resolution where both parties feel they have won, at least to some extent. You should be specific, direct and concise and recognise the needs of both parties by saying something along the lines of “What I see us doing is compromising on the way we make the presentation.”

    In some circumstances you may need to involve a third person who is neutral to the whole situation to act as a mediator.

    Following up and taking action
    Once a solution has been found and a decision has been made, you have to ensure that the correct follow-up actions occur and commit yourself to the outcome.

    Top tips for holding difficult conversations

    Meet face-to-face in a neutral place: Put your chairs at 45-degree angles with no desk between you. Make sure that no one will interrupt and that phones are off or diverted.

    Be objective, not subjective: Neutral language and facts will help get your point of view understood and accepted, as it makes the situation become clear and undeniable. State specific examples of times that have caused problems for you.

    Be accurate and never exaggerate: This will help you to build trust and in turn motivate your colleague to change his or her behaviour.

    Repeat key points: People have selective hearing and only hear what they want to hear.

    Be prepared to look at yourself: You may be a part of the problem. Have you experienced similar issues with other people and are you the common denominator?

    Sue France spoke at the Office show on “Managing conflict and dealing with difficult people and situations.” Find out more at suefrance.com

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson