by Mark Leonard
As a manager, you have to be a good listener. When I’m asked in job interviews how I resolve conflict, part of my answer always involves listening. Most of the time, people just want someone to listen to and understand their concerns. I would say 50% of the time that’s all it takes to resolve conflict, if you just show the employee that you understand their point of view and hear them out, the problem will resolve itself with no action required. In these cases, the problem is psychological; someone is reacting negatively to a situation and creating tension. Listening to the employee eases this tension.
An example that comes to mind from my time with defense contractor KBR in Iraq is an instance when two employees were unhappy with the layout of desks in an office on Camp Victory, Iraq. The two employees were isolated in a small room and didn’t get along. There was a lot of implicit tension that built up until one of them came and spoke with me about it. Shortly after, the other employee came and spoke with me about it. Both of them had trouble working in the office while the other was present. Problems included talking on the phone frequently and too loudly, frequent social visitors, and eating food at the office. I let each of them explain their point of view and they talked for about 95% of the conversation. I restated their position to show them that I had acknowledged their perspective and told them that I would start working on a solution and asked them to ensure that the mission was not interrupted by their disagreement until I could figure something out.
After they were able to vent about their concerns, the two employees were much less passive aggressive and their quality of work improved. I was able to split them up within a few days and their working relationship improved. The important thing to focus on in this story is the power of listening, most of the time all you need to do is listen to help a frustrated employee get back on track.