When it comes right down to it, the practice of law has conflict built right into it. It’s an adversarial system by design, one side pitted against the other in a battle that relies on a successful argument.
But making a persuasive legal argument in court and getting into an argument with a colleague are two very different things. Conflict within a law firm can jeopardize clients and careers, so it’s important to adopt ways to resolve these issues successfully. Here are 4 of the best conflict resolution strategies for your firm.
1 – Don’t Beat Around the Bush
Most people are hard-wired to avoid direct conflict. This means employing strategies like avoidance, triangulation (talking to a 3rd party about a conflict), and other mitigation strategies. This doesn’t do anything but prolong the issue. If you don’t take active steps to confront the issue head-on, this will lead to whatever conflict caused the issue in the first place to potentially worsen. Remember that confrontation is the only method for moving past a conflict successfully, and while this can be painful, it’s a necessary component of interpersonal growth.
2 – Keep Things Professional
Whether it’s a procedural, ideological, or an interpersonal difference, whatever might have caused the conflict is likely due to emotions spiraling out of control. When you do have a confrontation, whether it’s with a client or a colleague, approach the issue from a professional perspective and don’t let emotions run high. Doing so will only make it more difficult to reach a successful resolution. This is obviously more easily said than done, but if you want to be considered a professional, you’re going to have to demonstrate the ability to act in a manner befitting your position.
3 – At the Same Time, Acknowledge the Emotional Component
However, you can’t discount the emotional component of a conflict completely. It’s important to acknowledge and validate the emotions of those in conflict. Using empathy to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and then telling them “I can see how this would be upsetting and you have every right to feel the way you do” goes a long way in resolving conflicts. People want to feel that they have been heard and understood. While this isn’t universal, in many cases it’s this understanding that is enough to resolve a conflict altogether. If not, it’s an excellent first step in demonstrating your willingness to discuss and resolve an issue.
4 – When All Else Fails, Apologize
Admitting you’re wrong can be difficult, especially if you feel the other person is the one who’s at fault. At the same time, there are bigger things at stake than your personal sense of justice. If a simple, sincere apology will mollify an upset client or ensure that a conflict between a fellow legal professional will be resolved, consider doing so. Additionally, a simple statement that you’re sorry the other person became angry or upset because of something you did means you can express regret for the outcome without compromising your original stance.