Research shows that managers spend as much as 25 to 40 percent of their time working to resolve conflict in the workplace.
Imagine what you could achieve if you could spend this time doing something else! The dialogue method is an effective communication process that you can learn to use to resolve conflict in the workplace. The dialogue method was first developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt to help improve personal relationships and communications. We’ve adjusted the process slightly for the workplace, but the concepts and techniques that they’ve taught over the years can also be used in maintaining professional relationships, as well as personal ones.
Let’s say that somebody that walks into your office and they are very upset because you promoted somebody else and they felt like they deserved the promotion. They are angry and they are venting. This is where you start in with the dialogue method.
Step 1: Listen
This may be the most challenging step because usually our first tendency is to get defensive. Instead, try to be more constructive in conflict resolution. Set your defensiveness to the side and listen. Invite the person to sit down and tell you all of their feelings about this conflict. They share their feelings about being not being promoted: “I don’t think it’s fair, I’ve been here longer, I feel like I have more experience, I don’t understand why I didn’t get promote.” When they get to that point when they stop and take a breath—and you’ve listened—you go into step two.
Step 2: Mirror
Repeat back what you hear them saying.
“So what I hear you saying is that you’re very frustrated. You feel like you should have been promoted. You don’t understand why he got promoted. You feel like you’ve been here longer and you have more experience. Am I hearing you correctly?”
Mirroring helps retain the anger and frustration, whereas getting defensive and interrupting will only cause the emotion to explode. Mirroring helps show that you are indeed listening and you want to make sure you understand them correctly.
Step 3: Ask For More
“What else is frustrating you about this situation?”
At that point, they might say, “That’s pretty much it. I don’t know what else I can be frustrated about.” Or, they might expand a little bit. Then you would mirror that back again. When you’ve done all of that and mirrored everything back, move into step four.
Step 4: Validate
Convey to the person that you understand that it makes sense that they would feel frustrated. Remember, it is not important whether your decision or their feelings are right or wrong. It’s simply recognizing the information on the feelings that person is actually feeling. You’re validating the feelings by saying, “It makes sense that you would feel that way. If I were in your shoes and I viewed the situation the same way that you’re looking at it, I would probably feel the same way.”
Step 5: Empathize
When you empathize, you are trying to determine what they might also be feeling. You might say something like, “I would imagine you might also be feeling like ‘why do I even try around here. Does it even matter to anybody?’ Are you feeling that way?”
Once you’ve done all that, you have employed the first five steps of the dialogue method: listen, mirror back, ask for more, validate, and empathize. Now you’re ready for the final step.
Step 6: Response
After you’ve validated their feelings and empathized, ask to respond. Say, “Would it be okay if I respond?” After going through all of that, they’re not going to say no. They will be more ready to listen to you now that they have been heard and validated.
This is where you go in and explain your position, “The reason that this person got promoted was because of this and this and this. I really believe you have a tremendous amount of potential to promote and I actually want to work with you over the next year to try to get you promoted.”
While you’re sharing this, they might cut you off or interject because they don’t know the dialogue method. But, this is an opportunity to train them a little bit in the dialogue method without telling them you’re doing it (which can come across as a little condescending, particularly in this situation).
If you’re interrupted, you’ll want to say something like, “Would it be okay if I finished? Because when you shared your thoughts with me and your frustrations, I sat here and I listened and I tried not to interrupt you and I relayed back to you to make sure I heard you correctly.
I would just ask for the same courtesy, that you would let me finish and then I promise, I will give you the opportunities to respond again. Does that sound fair?”
Using the dialogue method to resolve conflict in the workplace will help you improve respectful and open workplace communications. It will also help build your trustworthiness and credibility as a leader. Try practicing the dialogue method – not just at work, but in your personal relationships as well.