I wrote a few months ago about mediating conflict between employees. What happens after you hold that challenging conversation? We want to believe things will be fine now that the air is cleared, but agreements to new behaviors can be fragile. When you say to your employees, “I’m going to be checking back in with you (at a specified time) to follow up on the agreements we made today,” and then you do check back, you increase accountability. People understand that your expectations for improvements are not optional. Some key things to consider and include in your follow up:
Approach this follow up as a retention strategy.
If you haven’t heard, quitting is a post-pandemic phenomenon. Every employee relationship where you can foster bridge building is one where no one has to quit to leave the tension. Sometimes these relationships take effort on everyone’s part, but the cost to recruit, replace, and retrain is high.
Set a date and time.
Don’t leave it to “soon.” Put it on the calendar before you even leave the mediation, as part of the mediation. If you didn’t do that, go schedule it now.
Make sure employees know you expect them to show up.
This is especially important if you are a new manager or have not had a lot of these kinds of meetings with employees. One new manager recently expressed frustration about an employee who did not come to the follow up meetings she would set. But keeping an open mind to learning, she asked and learned that the person’s former manager had a “come only if you want/need to” policy.
Have a set of questions ready to ask. Review the agreements they made at the initial meeting and then ask:
1. “What specifically (have each of you) contributed to making things better since we last met?”
2. “What do you still need to work on?” These first two questions keep the focus on personal responsibility rather than blame.
3. If things are better: “Great! How would you know if it was starting to go the wrong direction and slip back to the old problems? What kinds of things would you notice being said or done?” This is relapse prevention. Finding themselves back in conflict doesn’t start with another blow-up. It starts with the little things, like noticing a frustration but not speaking up, or drawing a conclusion about someone’s body language or tone of voice but not verifying what it means by asking.
4. If things are not better, you might ask a variation of these questions: “What would make you more willing to make the changes necessary to improve the situation, and what is your plan for becoming willing?” Use this opportunity to clearly state any non-optional expectations you have about behaviors going forward, and reinforce your goal of a workplace where everyone feels valued in a positive environment.
Give a heads up to your questions. Share your questions, adapted for your situation, with the employees a day or two prior to meeting so they know what to expect and are ready to participate in the discussion.
Thank them! Just like the initial discussion, resolving conflict and talking about it with a manager is hard, and many people will feel uncomfortable in these situations. Let them know you appreciate any courage and openness they show.
Restate your expectations. This can be tricky. Do you restate and come across as micromanaging? Or do you assume they know what you expect and leave it unsaid, risking ambiguity? While each situation is unique, in general, it does not usually hurt to reiterate once. It might even sound like, “I think you understand that I don’t expect you to like each other, but I do expect that if that was the case, no one would ever know it.” If you have organizational behavior standards, this is the perfect place to draw the connection from these standards to your expectations.
Alternatively, to check their understanding, you might say, “To be sure we’re all on the same page, tell me how you understand what I expect of you going forward.” Take their responses as your cue to whether you need to explain anything further.
Keep it short and focused. This does not have to go on for hours, but it does need to be done to make sure the work you accomplished in the initial mediation becomes hard-wired. If improvements can’t be established, end this meeting to plan your next step, which may include individual coaching for performance for an employee not taking responsibility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
||In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.