Heather Foley looks at the steps a team leader should take to resolve conflict between agents.
All agents should be encouraged to challenge ideas, even if this does result in some conflict. However, there comes a point when conflict can become dangerous and is no longer constructive.
Here are some ideas to help you restore peace and morale in the contact centre battlefield.
1. Be a listening ear and gain insight into the cause of the situation
At the early stages of any conflict, you need to be prepared to listen. Try not to judge or take sides too early.
Listen to everything said by everyone, don’t share information or gossip, just allow both sides to unburden themselves.
This will achieve two things. It will give you an insight into the cause of the situation, and it will position you as someone who is impartial and trustworthy.
Remaining in this position for too long can be dangerous, but it’s certainly the right place to start.
2. Ask questions to sow the seeds of understanding
Having fully understood the situation, and earned a neutral position, you now need to ask questions.
Good questions, asked sensitively, can help to sow the seeds of understanding in a conflict, and perhaps instil some appreciation of the other party’s position. Questions need to be asked gently, and in an unbiased way. If done well, the results can be significant.
3. Step back and see whether the situation starts to change
This is now a good time to step back and see whether the situation starts to change and relations thaw.
If they do, you may want to consider continuing observation for a while longer. If they don’t, it might be worth trying to intervene again.
4. Encourage each side to talk and listen
If you think intervention is required, you should limit it to encouraging each side to talk and listen.
Don’t become a spokesperson or a go-between, but do reassure each side that if they speak openly, a mutually agreeable resolution can be found.
5. Chair a meeting and discuss possible solutions
If asked, and if you feel skilled enough, you can chair a meeting. In this situation, you need to be utterly impartial (regardless of your personal views) and follow a clear agenda.
The agenda should be structured to allow each side to express their views whilst the other listens without interrupting.
Both sides then need to propose solutions. Usually, a fair solution will appear and both sides will become reasonable again.
6. Warn agents that the next step involves upper management
As a last resort, simply remind them that this issue has to be resolved, otherwise upper management will inevitably become involved.
This would result in the worst outcome possible for both sides, as the upper management team will likely be annoyed at the lack of productivity throughout this saga!
This should focus the conflicted parties’ minds on being sensible and agreeing to the best solution!
Conflict is not only a part of business, it’s also a part of real life, and a necessary one.
While dealing with conflict won’t necessarily be a pleasant time for you, if handled well, it could be an unusual path to building your reputation for the future.
Heather Foley is a consultant at etsplc.com, a UK-based HR consultancy and technology company