A sensitive therapist is offended by something a new receptionist said and is threatening to leave, and a long-time employee is furious about being passed over for a recently vacated management position. These are just a couple of examples of the workplace conflicts that can take up much of a spa director’s time. In The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict (CRC Press, 2011), authors Steven Dinkin, Barbara Filner, and Lisa Maxwell offer up suggestions for moving past emotionally charged disputes. After three years spent heading up the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), the three are well-versed on the tools of the trade necessary for moving past conflicts. The Exchange, a four-stage process, is designed to encourage a positive discussion that is more productive than the typical gripe session that usually ensues. Derived from the conflict resolution model that NCRC mediators have used for more than 25 years, it features constructive techniques to use in face-to-face meetings with disputing or disruptive staff members.
According to Dinkin, president of the NCRC, The Exchange involves managers and employees working together to develop effective solutions. “Like most managers, you probably did not set out to be a conflict resolver, and you probably find it more than a little frustrating to be your company’s resident fire chief,” says Dinkin. “The Exchange teaches you to resist the temptation to simply tell people what to do. Actively engaging your employees in problem solving helps them take responsibility for the problem and for the solution. When you know how to address workplace conflicts properly, these challenging situations can lead to creative resolutions that re-energize the workplace and bring new ideas to old problems.”
Here are four tips excerpted from The Exchange that reveal how you can make your spa the peaceful place it espouses to be.
Start with an icebreaker. Most people will be ready to complain, debate, or argue at the beginning of any conflict-based conversation. They have marshaled their most compelling arguments and are ready for battle. If you go straight to the topic of controversy, most people will quickly get stuck in defending their positions and attacking their opponents.
Listen. Conflict resolution is tricky, because too many managers ignore the fact that sometimes what they aren’t saying is more important than what they are saying. Often, the best resolutions come from listening carefully to what the other person has to say. Being an active listener sends the message that you are genuinely concerned about him or her and the dispute. Put plain and simply, it’s the best way to get good information.
Use and encourage positive language. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but any frustrated manager knows how easy it can be to slip into negativity after a conflict has affected a workgroup. Always think before you speak. Use positive, easy-to-understand language. Don’t fall into repeating verbatim paragraphs from your company’s HR manual.
Work toward SMART solutions. Sustainable solutions are SMART solutions. That means they’re:
Specific: Be clear about who will do what, when, where, and how.
Measurable: Be clear about how you will all be able to tell that something has been done, achieved, or completed.
Achievable: Make sure that whatever solution you agree on fits the situation; that it complies with both the law and organizational policy; and that everyone involved has the ability and opportunity to do what is required of them. Don’t set up anyone to fail.
Realistic: Check calendar dates for holidays and vacations; look at past performance to predict future actions; allow extra time for glitches and delays; don’t assume that the best-case scenarios will come true.
Timed: Create reasonable deadlines or target dates, including a few ideas about what to do if something unexpected occurs, and be willing to set new dates if necessary.
Emotions can run high in any business. That’s why it’s important to deal with any issues as they arise. “Disputes, full of emotional complexities and interpersonal histories, are the headaches of the workplace,” says Dinkin. “They’re always going to pop up, even in the most cordial of workplace environments. The good news is that when you’re armed with the tools you need to work toward productive resolutions, you and your employees can use them to strengthen your organization rather than harm it.”