Three C’s for resolving conflict

by Sarah Marshall, North Side Community Federal Credit Union

Metrics are critical, but metrics are mirrors. Outstanding organizations keep a close eye on metrics. It is vital to the strength of your balance sheet to know where you stand with member growth, loan growth, retention, account penetration, and more. The data on your financial performance report matters.  But success is driven by culture, with metrics being the byproduct of a strong organizational culture.  And when you are dealing with people, as we are in the credit union industry, you will run into conflict.  Conflict is inevitable.  On any given day, you may deal with an angry borrower yelling over the phone about a late fee, or resolving an interpersonal conflict between two employees. Vibrant cultures are ones that value open communication, and few things can kill organizational performance faster than unresolved conflict. When things aren’t getting done, it is often because people are not working well together.  Conflict resolution is an art, but here are a few techniques that help diffuse conflict consistently.

Communicate:  This may seem like an obvious step, but making a genuine effort to resolve the problem is often the first step in solving the situation. Many people would prefer to avoid a complicated or tense situation because values and character can often feel threatened in such situations. Taking a step forward toward action can go a long way. Approaching an upset individual, acknowledging the tension, and beginning to address it is actionable. When necessary, or in a situation where there is recurring interpersonal conflict, get a neutral third party involved.  

Consistency:  Make sure that your approach to conflict is consistent.  Stick with your policies, and make it clear where there is room for flexibility and where there is not. Check your own behaviors to make sure you are treating your employees or peers with consistently respectful behavior. It’s human to naturally prefer time with one person over another, but every individual deserves the same level of respect whether you personally like them or not. Recognize where you might not be consistent in your communication or reactions to the particular individual you are dealing with. This is especially critical at small credit unions that don’t have the resources to have on-site human resources personnel.  Successful conflict resolution involves a degree of personal introspection.   

Composure:  Stay calm. This can be one of the most difficult of steps because emotions run high in conflict. Approach the conflict as a neutral observer to the degree you can, and separate the emotion from the words. If a member is yelling at you, they will often de-escalate if you continue to treat them with respect and calming politely acknowledge their behavior and ask them to stop. It is hard to continue to yell at someone who is speaking to you softly. Reframe the situations in your own mind and let go of your own assumptions before engaging in a situation that is emotionally tense. You may walk away finding you have learned something new.

Finally, resolve. Sometimes the conversation can become lengthy, and begin to go in circles. One strategy that frequently gets a conversation un-stalled is to acknowledge the source of conflict, recognize that has already occurred, and ask what the individual would like to see happen to move forward.  For example, when your member is angry because of an error on the credit union’s part, state: “Ms. Smith, I am sorry we handled the situation incorrectly, and we care about your concerns. However, this has already occurred and we can’t correct the past. What do you need to feel better about this situation moving forward?” It often gets the angry individual out of stuck mode and into solution-oriented thinking. A genuine desire to address and resolve conflict can go far toward building a positive organizational culture and reputation.

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall is a consultant in the credit union industry, and can be reached for partnership and speaking opportunities through Your Credit Union Partner. Her background in community development includes ... Web: Details

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