There are a wide variety of problem solving activities that you can bring into your workplace to make things run more smoothly and to increase productivity. Conflict resolution does not have to be all seriousness and gravitas, although it is always important for your employees to know that their issues and problems are being considered with the utmost care and attention. Through communication, organization, and commitment, you can practice great problem solving activities that will bring everyone to the table and open the lines of bargaining, negotiation, and cooperation that are so necessary in the modern workplace. Although technology has come to rule our attentions, good old-fashioned interpersonal relationships are still the brick and mortar of any and every effective business. Without great personnel even the most cutting-edge internet technology firm would be hard-pressed to get their products to market in an efficient, exciting manner. People generate the work, the buzz, and the interest that makes business run, and when conflict arises you want to be able to resolve it with simple, effective problem solving activities and tools.
Communication or the lack thereof, is almost always found at the beginning of a conflict or a problem. The genesis of something that might take days to resolve will often turn out to be a simple misunderstanding interpreted as intentional deceit. One great place to start is through the thorough documentation of each person’s interpretation of the problem at hand. Rather than have everyone descend into he-said-she-said, try getting each one of them to write down what they remember as the series of events that led up to this point in the conflict. Another great writing activity is to have everyone write down what they would accept as a kind of “plea bargain” from the other party or parties. What would it take for them to drop their other “charges?” By putting things in these terms, and most importantly, by getting it in writing rather than out loud, you can get a better idea of the big picture, while also allowing everyone to be a bit more candid that they might be in speech.
On a lighter note if the communication breakdown at the heart of your conflict is being contested, try this simple game to demonstrate how easily information is contorted over time. Tell a story to two people, separately. Vary it very slightly, not in fact, but in word choice and order of events. Ask those two people to each tell two more people, separately, and so on, until at least ten people have been told. Then have each person who heard the story write it down, and read them aloud. Read your two versions of the story last. Once people realize how few permutations it takes before a story is almost unrecognizable, they may be more willing to understand that the other people in their particular conflict may not have had the amount of malice in their intent that was originally suspected.
If this is a conflict of more serious proportions, however some more intense problem solving activities may be necessary. The formal supervision of work between the conflicting parties may be necessar, and an outside party may need to dictate the terms of a truce of some kind. In this way, office politics can look a lot like real politics. When diplomats and heads of state head to the bargaining table, they each bring a list of “wishes, wants, and musts;” in other words, a list of items that would be nice but are unlikely, those that are highly desirable and also highly possible, and those that they will not leave without, unless everyone leaves empty handed. This last category in the workplace is in some ways not an option. Unless people want to resign, they cannot very well decide to stop working completely. However it is still important to know what does fall into that category for that individual. As a part of conflict resolution knowing all parts of the story is highly valuable.
Problem solving in the workplace can be a daunting task. When you are dealing with most day-to-day conflict, a combination of hearing people out, and basic activities will iron things out.