Conflict in meetings is practically inevitable – not in every meeting, but every workplace will see it from time to time. Usually, minor disagreements can be resolved without breaking a sweat. These conflicts rarely escalate to a level that is highly disruptive to the meeting or damaging to work relationships. Once in a great while, though, a conflict occurs that makes you wonder if you’re going to have to break up a fist fight.
When a simple disagreement turns personal and doesn’t seem to be resolving, how do you bring back civility to a situation that has the potential to get out of hand? Follow these five steps to get your team members back in line and your meeting back on track when things get feisty.
1. Confront the problem without hesitation
At the first sign of a potentially problematic conflict, start addressing the issue right away. Sitting on it could make negative feelings fester, as it is unlikely to completely resolve on its own in the long term even if it seems to dissipate in the moment. Progress in the meeting at hand, as well as at future meetings, could greatly suffer. When it’s clear there’s an argument brewing, don’t wait to take action.
2. Mediate to address the core issue
When addressing conflict in a meeting, it’s important to communicate openly with all team members. The first step to resolving a conflict is to discover what caused it in the first place. Was it a misunderstanding? Is there information missing? Find out what the real issue is so you can start coming up with a fix. Call upon neutral parties in the meeting to assist if needed, and avoid making any personal attacks or accusations. Just stick to the facts.
3. Take a break to ease tensions
If the argument is heated, or you’ve been mediating for awhile and it’s not going anywhere, it may be time to take a breather. A short 20-minute break can give the parties involved time to clear their heads, gather their thoughts, and come to their senses. In some cases, it might be appropriate to shorten the meeting and meet separately with the individuals involved in the conflict. It’s best to cause as little disruption to progress and goals as possible, but if the meeting can’t go on as it is, some time away will do everyone some good.
4. Stay focused on solutions
Managing conflict isn’t about figuring out who is right or wrong, or judging people for their past words or actions. The objective is to find a solution to the disagreement that everyone can, well, agree on. Sometimes this is as simple as letting everyone speak their mind and understand each other’s perspective. Other times, people have to agree to disagree. In the worst case scenario, the meeting leader or supervisor has to make an executive decision if no one can agree. The end result might not make everyone perfectly happy, but it’s at least something that everyone can “live with” so that the team can continue working together.
5. Keep communication open
As a general rule, make sure to communicate openly with your team and solicit feedback from them. Touching base regularly can help avoid conflicts in the first place by ensuring that people have the information they need and understand situations correctly. Keeping an open door also allows team members to reach out with questions and concerns and seek help with any dilemmas that arise. Team meetings tend to run a lot more smoothly when they’re not the only times that you talk with your team.