HUMAN RESOURCES / NOV. 16, 2014
version 3, draft 3

How to Handle Conflicts in Meetings

Conflict and tension during business meetings is a common phenomenon in many organizations and teams. While this could be an energizing and exciting experience, it could also have an adverse effect on people’s morale. Conflict in the workplace can be divided into two categories:

  • Personality issues and power struggles – When groups or individuals feel that their positions are threatened or simply don’t like each other, conflict is likely to result. In such a case, conflict is caused by differences in personality rather than facts
  • Professional differences – This is where conflict results from differences in professional views. Quite often, such differences don’t escalate into open conflict. However, when the stakes are high, unresolved conflict due to professional differences can have detrimental effects

How are some tips for reducing the likelihood of conflict during a meeting:

1. Prepare thoroughly

One of the best ways of avoiding conflict is by preparing thoroughly beforehand. What is the agenda for the meeting? How much time will be allocated to each point? Having clear objectives for your meeting will help you control individuals who would like to advance their own agendas

2. Send the agenda in advance

Before people attend a meeting, be sure to send them the agenda. You could also ask them to suggest anything else they feel should addressed. When people know what they are coming to discuss, they are less likely to interrupt. However, avoid making your agenda too rigid and allow some flexibility.

3. Be alert

During meetings, you should always be alert to the possibility of conflict arising. One of the best ways of spotting potential conflict is by observing the body language of participants. Signs such as rolling of eyes, fidgeting, shaking the head or whispering to others could indicate that conflict is looming. You should also be on high alert during meetings involving groups or individuals who are well known for causing trouble. Anticipating conflict will enable you to manage it in a more effective way

4. Establish rules

Every meeting should have rules controlling it. Here are some of the rules to consider:

  • All the attendees must keep time
  • Phones should be switched off or placed in silent mode
  • Anyone that wants to speak must raise their hands
  • Only one person can speak at a time
  • Insulting or obscene language shall not be tolerated

The person chairing the meeting must be serious about enforcing these rules. Anyone violating them should be dealt with accordingly.

When conflict does occur, you can use the following strategies to deal with it:

  • Depersonalization – This approach involves focusing on issues rather than people
  • Questioning – In this strategy, focus is shifted from the conflict to ‘research’. Ask carefully phrased questions which will encourage people to share their thoughts and opinions
  • Reduce the perceived threat – People usually feel threatened when they feel that something they value is threatened. In many cases, this perception is based on incomplete information. You can reduce the perceived threat by providing the full and accurate information.
  • Take issues ‘offline’ – At times, conflicts cannot be sorted out during meetings. In such cases, it would be advisable to plan for a separate meeting to deliberate the issue later.

It might not be possible to prevent conflict in meetings. However, applying the tips above can help you mitigate its negative impacts.  

Image source: iStock

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