“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Hopefully we all use this model of conflict resolution when we have been wronged, or are angry with others, but I think it’s also effective in the workplace to resolve minor disagreements. For example, imagine a scenario where you have made a request, and it was either dismissed or ignored. You need something done, but did not get help from another staff member. Following this model of resolution, you would first approach the staff member and find out what was going on. If that did not resolve the issue, then you could widen the conversation and bring in another staff member if appropriate. After that you could go to the supervisor.
In most situations this seems to work pretty well. I find most things get cleared up in stage 1. I rarely ever have to go to a supervisor for a decision.
However, there is one method of communication where I find people automatically jump to stage 3, and involve the supervisor. They do it without thinking. Maybe just because it’s easy. Maybe they want the protection of proof that they have tried to accomplish their goals.
Too often people will run into a problem, and craft an email, and for some reason they will go ahead and copy their supervisor, and maybe a few more related parties. They don’t mention that they copied anyone, the email is obviously directed at the initial recipient. But multiple people are copied.
When I get emails like this, I always wonder what the sender was trying to accomplish? It feels like they were trying to get me into trouble, while trying to make themselves look good to coworkers and supervisors. As a supervisor, I almost always disregard emails like this, where I am copied for no reason. Or, depending on the subject, I may intervene and address the sender directly about the issue.
If you are truly trying to solve a problem, to get something done, don’t copy a lot of people unnecessarily on an email chain. It does not get anything done faster, and in most cases actually hurts the work relationships involved.
My suggested method of conflict resolution involving email communication:
1. Follow the biblical conflict resolution model.
2. Be clear.
3. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t mean it that way. Don’t read into the text.
4. Don’t respond to emails when angry, or late at night.
5. If you aren’t getting anything resolved, get out of your chair and go see the other person, if possible. Call them. Don’t just keep typing.
Emails is a very handy tool, but it is not the only method of communication available to you. Use it when appropriate, but a face to face conversation where both parties can see body language and hear tone of voice is much more effective when resolving conflict.