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4 Tips for Conflict-busting Conversations

Steven P. Dinkin, Barbara Filner and Lisa Maxwell October 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Workplace conflicts take up 42% of a typical manager’s time. The trick to moving past these conflicts and on to increased productivity for everyone at your skin care facility is knowing how to approach the topics in a way that leads to improved working relationships.

The following tips—excerpted from The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict (CRC Press, 2011)—will teach you how to turn your next meeting with conflicting team members into a productive conversation.

1. Start with an icebreaker. If you go straight to the topic of controversy, most people will quickly get stuck in defending their positions and attacking their opponents. The icebreaker is a way to nonconfrontationally initiate a conversation about difficult issues. An ideal icebreaker asks for a person’s own take on something that’s both work-related and positive. For example, if the conflict involves two estheticians, you might break the ice by asking each of them how they became involved in the skin care profession and what they hoped to achieve.

2. Listen. 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 the employee and the dispute. Ask an open-ended question; it can be as simple as, “So, tell me, what’s going on?” Then listen carefully to that person’s side of the story. You’ll know it’s time to insert yourself into the conversation when the discussion turns negative.

3. 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 team members. Always think before you speak and use positive, easy-to-understand language. Don’t fall into repeating paragraphs from your company’s human resources manual verbatim. When you keep things positive, you can work toward great solutions efficiently and effectively.

4. Work toward SMART solutions. Sustainable solutions are SMART solutions.

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 spa policy; and that everyone involved has the ability and opportunity to do what is required of them. Don’t set anyone up 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; and don’t assume that the best-case scenarios will come true.

Timed: Create reasonable deadlines or target dates; include a few ideas about what to do if something unexpected occurs; and be willing to set new dates if necessary.

Once you have your SMART solutions in place, immediately put them in writing. Putting solutions in writing is very important, and not just for legal reasons. It’s a way to honor the work that you and your employees have accomplished.

Disputes, full of emotional complexities and interpersonal histories, are the headaches of the workplace. They’re always going to pop up, even in the most cordial of spa 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 business rather than harm it.

Steven P. Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), and for several years with the Center for Dispute Settlement in Washington, D.C., he served as an employment and workplace mediator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal agencies.

Barbara Filner was the director of training for NCRC from 1984–2010, and she currently works as a consultant for the organization. She has designed and conducted workshops on mediation and conflict resolution in the workplace in both the United States and Europe.

Lisa Maxwell is currently the director of the training institute at NCRC. She developed and is the lead trainer in The Exchange Training. Lisa has worked with businesses, with the military and with nonprofit organizations on finding creative, effective ways to manage conflicts.

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