I’ve stayed in my share of bad relationships: the relative who abused me, the employer that bounced my paychecks, the employee who stole equipment and lied on timesheets, boyfriends who cheated, etc.
It’s often hard to sever ties when the person not fulfilling his or her duties is a generally nice person. We tell ourselves they just need a little love and guidance before they begin behaving as we need them to. We wait it out, hoping for the change and looking for it in everything they do. We see potential in the tiniest things: a promise, a gift, a new policy, an apology, or an acknowledgment of our patience and commitment. We overlook the lack of a plan to sustain new behavior, and we stay because we see the potential. There’s always potential.
Here is a look at a real-life work conflict from “Sam”, through the lens of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process.
It would be a lot easier for Sam to leave his organization, if he didn’t share its mission or if its leader was a self-serving jerk. Bella is disorganized, forgetful, and overwhelmed, but she is kind and seems to genuinely try to do good in the world. The last-minute meetings with no clear agenda–and scheduled on holidays–aren’t the worst things Sam has dealt with in his career. Even if they stress him out and disrupt his life, it could be worse. It can always be worse.
The frequent panic and troubleshooting is worse, but they always get through it. Isn’t work like this everywhere anyway?
Sam was regularly making The Seven Choices. He was forgiving, open, and compassionate with Bella. But he was also stressed out and resigned about his career, the organization’s mission, and the possibilities of something better. It was time for action.
Action One: Define the Conflict
Sam and Bella seemed to disagree about what made the organization successful, especially in its relationship with its workers.
Action Two: Identify the Interests
Sam believed he was joining an organization–something that was organized. He thought he would have opportunities to thrive with Bella, contributing what he thought were his best skills to their client services. He didn’t expect to have to do so much to stabilize the organization. He wants to make a difference in the world, but he’s afraid he’s on a “sinking ship”, and he needs to see more action from Bella to back up her promises.
Bella wasn’t involved in the conversations yet, but we prepared for her participation by exploring what might be her experience. She probably believes she is doing well enough because no one is telling her they are deeply unhappy. (They tell each other instead.) She might think the occasional complaints are just tiny reactions to stress that appears to disappear when the chaos subsides. She seems to expect a lot for very little, but she might think she is giving more value than Sam thinks she does. We believe Bella truly wants the best for most people, but she probably needs more training and experience before she can deliver it.
Sam doesn’t know if he can wait.
Action Three: Play with the Possibilities
If Sam could have this conflict resolve in any way possible, Bella would get organized, communicate more frequently, and help him succeed in his role.
Action Four: Create the Future
Sam doesn’t want to leave without giving Bella a chance to work with him toward a lasting resolution. He also realizes he has been slightly hypocritical, so he created an action plan:
- Organize his thoughts this week.
- Request a meeting with Bella next week to:
- Share what is going well, what is not, and what might improve their experiences
- Reiterate his commitment to the organization and what he wants to accomplish
- Ask for specific help
- Develop a follow-up plan.
- Prepare to leave if:
- Bella will not meet with him within two weeks
- He is dismissed as a whiner
- No specific action plan is created
- Action is not taken.
Action Five: Stay on PARR
Sam and I discussed the likelihood that it will take multiple discussions and revisions to achieve the lasting change he seeks. He confirmed his understanding and committed to planning, acting, revising, and repeating until he and Bella get the results they want.
Have a conflict keeping you up at night? Request coaching
For more ideas for creating effective partnerships, or leaving ineffective ones:
- Creating Partnerships that Work (Video)
- Take the Next Step: You Have to Create the Partnership, Too (Blog Post)
- I Hate My Job…What Should I Do? (Blog Post)
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an attorney and mediator who also serves as the Main Representative to the United Nations for the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, and minor league sports agent, as well as her legal, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and ICERM training. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).