Conflict Management: Agreements and Consequences

In the conflict resolution process, once you have completed the problem solving process, it is now time to lay out the agreements.

But what good are agreements if there is no way to see to it that they are upheld?  Typically we think about the agreements first and then look to the consequences.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard managers fret about what to do when the people in the conflict do not keep their word.

I suspect that part of the problem is that consequences were never discussed in the first place.  Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation between a manager and an employee who has been involved in a conflict that has resulted in an agreement that has subsequently not been honored.

Larry (the manager):  “Sue (the employee), I have noticed that the agreement we so laboriously crafted has not been followed by you.  Can you explain that to me?”

Sue:  “Well I just don’t think it’s fair for me to have to follow that agreement when I don’t feel like speaking to that jerk!  He continues to be obnoxious, and even though he is trying to be respectful to me, I can still sense that he has not changed a bit!  So, I don’t think I have to change when he hasn’t changed!”

Larry:  “What I hear you saying, Sue is that you have the feeling that he hasn’t changed, is that right?”

Sue:  “That’s exactly what I am saying!”

Larry:  “Ok, how has your feeling about him not changing affecting the agreement you made to talk with him when he has questions for you?”

Sue:  “He just irritates me when I see him coming! So I just ignore him.”

Larry:  “Sue I remember that the agreement that we forged did not include a contingency clause.  You agreed that you would talk with him no matter how you felt about him.  Is that your memory too?”

Sue:  “Well it wasn’t written or anything like that, so I don’t think it’s fair for you to call me on the carpet now!”

Larry:  “I can see that we didn’t write out the agreements nor did we discuss the consequences of failing to live up to the agreement.  I’ll take responsibility for that.  Now here is what I am expecting of you:  your performance is not dependent upon the other person.  Your performance is solely up to you.  I expect that you will talk with Tom and respond respectfully to him regardless of how you feel about him.

I will go back to the drawing board and reconstruct our mutual agreements and bring them back to you and to Tom for your review and signatures.  We will also discuss the future consequences for either of you.  Those consequences will include positive consequences and negative consequences as well.  In the meantime, can you tell me what you are hearing me say about my expectations of you?”

Sue:  “I don’t know, you said a lot.  But basically I heard you saying that my feelings about Tom shouldn’t stand in the way of me answering his questions and speaking to him.  You also said you would write out the agreements we made so we can review them.  And you said something about consequences.  Did I get it right?”

Larry: “Yes, Sue, you got most of it.  I want to emphasize that when we talk of consequences, we will be talking about positive consequences and negative consequences.  Thank you for hearing me, and I know you will live up to, if not exceed, the expectations I have of you.  We’ll talk again soon.”

When sewing up agreements it is important that they be written to provide both clarity and a written history.  In addition, the consequences of living up to the agreements should also be in writing for clarity’s sake.  That record should include both the positive consequences and the negative consequences.  Having both recorded can be a source of motivation for both parties.

Let me know what your thoughts are about this subject.  Also if you have questions of me I will seek to address them.

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