One of my most challenging leadership assignments was commanding 5,000 Soldiers and Marines in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and 2006. In that role, I was called upon to engage the tribal sheiks throughout the region.
Seeking to Understand
I would meet with these tribal leaders weekly at the government center about once per week. The sheiks led tribes of Iraqi citizens, and the tribes expected the sheiks to look out for their interests. The sheiks would bring me demands and we would engage in dialogue to seek win-win solutions.
One of the points of contention the sheiks had was U.S. patrols entering homes randomly and conducting searches. When the sheiks brought this to my attention, I called a meeting with my subordinate leaders to get their opinion. We all agreed, there were not many operational advantages that resulted from random searches. I came back to the sheiks and told them random searches would cease. Our patrols would only search homes based on actionable intelligence.
The sheiks greatly appreciated that we listened to their concerns and took action to change our procedures. This resulted in a high turnout in Ramadi in the 2005 elections and accounted for more men of Ramadi joining the Iraqi police force that enhanced stability. It was clear that resolving conflict led to successful outcomes for my unit and the objectives were we seeking.
During the time I served in Iraq I learned a great deal about conflict resolution, and since then I have continued to study the subject. I now work with business leaders to help them resolve conflict that inevitably occurs in a business environment.
A common area of workplace conflict occurs when two employees are in conflict with one another. These scenarios can be as simple as someone not putting a stapler back where it belongs or as complex as sorting out issues that concern time and money.
There are several tenets to resolving conflict which includes, listening; taking the time to understand the other person’s point of view; and focusing on the behavior, not the person.
Leaders and supervisors could resolve workplace conflict between two employees who are in conflict by using the acronym V O M P.
V – Provide the parties in conflict the opportunity to vent. Provide each party a good five minutes of uninterrupted time to tell their side of the story.
O – Have each party in the conflict take ownership of their actions, whether they be good or bad.
M – The “M” stands for moccasin and it implies each party should walk a mile in the other’s shoes. This is about helping each party in conflict demonstrate empathy for the other person and seek to understand the other’s point of view.
P – Before adjourning the session ensure there is a plan in place to ensure the conflict does not occur again the next day. Each party should agree to an action or a change of behavior and the leader should follow up to make sure the parties in fact follow through on the agreed plan.