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Management

3 ways to salvage a meeting that’s gone sour after a big conflict

We’ve all seen this play out before: A team member is minding her own business during a meeting, but when she speaks up, she’s targeted by an outspoken, know-it-all in the group who just has to say why he thinks she’s wrong.

This is what you can do as a manager to diffuse the situation — either during or after the meeting.

Figure out this crucial point

UC Berkeley’s Guide to Managing Human Resources talks about what to do during disagreements among team members.

“The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with,” the guide says. “Looking first for needs, rather than solutions, is a powerful tool for generating win/win options. To discover needs, you must try to find out why people want the solutions they initially proposed. Once you understand the advantages their solutions have for them, you have discovered their needs.”

Use this line during the meeting

This could help you literally make your voice heard.

After exploring various examples of dicey situations, Joseph Grenny, author, keynote speaker, business performance social scientist, and cofounder of VitalSmarts, offers a line that managers can use to “interrupt the chaos” in the Harvard Business Review.

“One of the best ways to change the emotion of a group is to change its tempo,” he writes. “As you attempt to intervene, decelerate your pace of speech. You may need to raise your voice a decibel or two to be heard above the rumble. But once you’ve attracted attention, lower your voice and speed. For example, you might say slowly and calmly, ‘Hey team, let me take a moment to point out something I’m noticing.’ ”

Get both parties in the same room

HR expert Susan M. Heathfield writes in The Balance that you should “meet with the antagonists together” when diffusing issues that arise at work. Perhaps this could be done after the meeting that became stressful.

“Let each briefly summarize their point of view, without comment or interruption by the other party. This should be a short discussion so that all parties are clear about the disagreement and conflicting views. Intervene if either employee attacks the other employee. This is not acceptable,” she writes.

As a manager, it’s your job to feel out the situation and take the appropriate course of action in the moment, before things get too intense.

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