Louie and I went for an early morning walk. I was eager to get in some exercise ahead of a busy client day. Just as we crossed the street in front of a wooded area, I heard a screeching sound, as though two cats were fighting. Without hesitation, Lou ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He didn’t look around. He didn’t stop. He just took off running. Once Lou was at the end of the leash, his body stopped, but his legs kept going. I had to laugh because he reminded me of The Jetsons with Jethro, the dog, on the treadmill.
Only when he felt we were at a safe distance did he turn to look back with a worried look on his face. He would have nothing to do with cats, much less getting in the middle of their fight. As we walked at our usual clipped pace, I thought, “Louie is a very smart dog.” Oh, if only we humans could learn to run as fast as we can when others try to pull us into arguments.
Conflict certainly happens with our friends or families, but it is very disruptive when it happens with our teams. It creates dissension and stagnates creativity and productivity, not to mention what it does to the cultural health of an organization.
We would love to offer our assistance when two coworkers are fighting so that we can feel good about helping, yet it is not always that simple or straightforward. Sometimes, it is best to run in the other direction, just as Louie does.
There are other times, though, we may be able to offer help. In my coaching practice, I often listen to employees or leaders vent about conflict or upsetting situations. Executive coaching may appear to be different from dealing with coworkers, but I have found the following process extremely helpful:
- Venting – People need a place to vent. Sometimes, being able to verbally process helps us let off some steam and get a clearer perspective.
- Listening – Lend an empathetic ear and listen to the person. Let them know you care about their situation yet you care more about the relationship.
- Reframing – Many times when someone is upset about something, he or she may not always see a different perspective of the situation. You could help that person by asking questions such as, what if the other person were challenging you with a different intent than what you assume? What is your responsibility in the situation? Could it be that the other person did not intend to upset you? Reframe the situation and help them to see a different perspective.
- Envisioning – Envisioning will help them to see what it would look like if they were sitting across the table from the person they are in conflict with, and talking one-on-one. This is very helpful for the person to visualize a tough conversation before he or she actually does. Again, it gives them an entirely different perspective.
Sometimes Louie’s method is actually the best. There are many times when it is not worth getting in the middle of two people who are fighting. No matter what you try to do to help, you might find that it will backfire on you.
Before you take that step in helping people resolve a conflict, you need to make sure that they are willing to work at it and to understand that the end goal is to mend the relationship. Some people have no intentions of reconciling, and it makes it tough to work with them. The catfight will revolve around who was right and who was wrong—and there will be no resolution to the conflict.
Louie does the first two steps very well. He lets me talk things out and listens intently, with those big, brown, soulful eyes. Then with a sweet content look on his face, he yawns and moves on. That’s a signal to me it’s time to get over whatever it was that upset me and to deal with the situation. Thanks, Lou, for such wisdom!