Once you’ve resolved to directly address the conflict, it’s tempting to have the conversation immediately. But taking time to prepare will help you remain calm and increase the chances that you and your counterpart will come away with a better solution than either of you could have predicted.
Below are several guidelines to help you prepare for a productive discussion.
Take Your Counterpart’s Perspective
Try to get a sense of what your colleague might be thinking. Ideally you already did some thinking about this when you analyzed the conflict, but go a little deeper. She had a rationale for the way she’s behaved so far (even if you don’t agree with it). What might that reason be?
“Try to imagine your way into their shoes as best you can. You can learn a lot by doing that simple mental exercise,” says Jonathan Hughes. Think about what’s going on for them. Ask yourself: What would I do if I were her, or if I were in R&D instead of marketing? What if I were someone reporting to me? What if I were my boss? Also ask yourself: What is she trying to achieve in the conflict? You’ll need a sense of what her goal is if you want to resolve it. Identify places where you see eye to eye on the issues. This common ground will give you a foundation to joint problem-solve.
Ask a colleague what he thinks is going on in your counterpart’s mind. Make sure it’s someone you trust, says Hughes. You might say something like, “I’d love some advice and coaching. I haven’t worked much with Akiko before, but I know you have. Can you help me understand how she might be seeing this situation?” Don’t use the conversation to vent and seek validation. “Paint the situation for him as neutrally as you can,” says Karen Dillon, author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics. “Cataloging every fault and misstep will probably get you sympathy but not constructive feedback, so focus on the problem.”
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to gather all the information you want about your colleague and her interests before you sit down together. Weiss says, “Craft a set of questions to ask in the room to uncover critical information and test any hypotheses you made.” This will help you, once you’re face-to-face, to show that you care enough about her perspective to think it through beforehand and to discover more about how she views the situation.
In addition to thinking about your counterpart’s take on the situation, remember the work you did in the previous chapter to consider his natural tendency for handling conflict and his communication style.
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