When we say conflict, most often we’re in a negative narrative immediately: Conflict is bad, conflict hurts, conflict is to avoid. But conflict is just conflict—the way we deal with it makes all the difference.

As everyone involved in relationships most certainly has to learn: conflict is a normal part of human interactions. No matter what the circumstances, you’ll face them every now and then. And that is also true in business life. The important thing to understand right away: Having conflicts does say nothing about the quality of a team or organizations. Only the way you deal with them positions conflicts on the barometer between “healthy team-building” and “catastrophic dysfunction”. That becomes a little clearer when we have a look at the “5 levels of conflict” model from Speed Leas. It separates conflict in 5 areas:

And yes, all of these types can be found in organizations and teams. We’ve met them all and obviously, the higher the level, the more difficult it is to dig in and find a constructive way out. Clarification Counseling® is a method we’re working with for some time now. It can add benefit on all levels but most often finds its way into teams when heads are hot – say level 4 and 5. Or when “everything else failed”.

So, no matter if you have a severe conflict to solve or simply want to pick up the crumbs before they turn into rocks, as an estimated customer of ours regularly does: Clarification Counseling ® might be for you.

What is it?

First and foremost: Clarification counseling is one very precise de-escalation strategy for conflict situations. When we remember the 5 levels mentioned above, Clarification Counseling® can bring you from a level 4 conflict to a level 3 conflict, for example. Which is a huge improvement! We’d love to say here that Clarification Counseling® let’s conflict go away altogether in one very session. But it’s a process – not a magic wand!

Laid out in five precisely defined phases, it is a mediation process that focuses on maximum clarity possible – both on fact and emotional level.

Each session is joined by

  • A specifically trained clarification mediator,
  • the team members and/or individual people involved
  • and the initiator of the clarification – for example, the team lead, manager, head of, CxO -, the team member or individual people involved in the conflict and a specifically trained clarification mediator.

At any moment of the process, this whole group is present and an active part of the Clarification Process, which is important for its beneficial outcome.

And with that, let’s dive into the four biggest advantages of the method we identified over time.

#1 Clarification Counseling® is inclusive & fair

During the process – which takes about two days – the mediator makes sure that everyone present gets a voice and has the chance to outline his or her very specific view of the conflict. That happens especially during the clarification phase (view picture above) in which all individual views are collected in written form and then collected in a big topic chart – a key element of the process. The written form of individual views makes sure that no “that’s right, that’s wrong” signals can influence what people want and have to say. And it’s also the first of some measures to make sure that not only the “outgoing” colleagues are heard.

Also, the function head or team lead – often the initiator of the Clarification Counseling® – is an equal part of the process and therewith shows openness for critique.

In addition to the comprehensive inclusion strategies, voluntariness is an incremental part of Clarification Counseling®: Although people will be “made to go” as it happens as an obligatory event during work time, no one will be pushed to speak, discuss or share if not ready or willing to do so. Every participant decides individually, how the own contribution looks like.

#2 Clarification Counseling® provides a save space

A very detailed process, precise steps to take, everything explained in advance: the close-mesh structure of Clarification Counseling® opens a very safe space to share and develop. Participants know exactly what awaits them, which is often a key point in helping people to open up and express what they normally wouldn’t say out loud. And to foster that even more, right at the beginning there’s one round of talks where everyone is invited to specifically share concern, anger, and sorrow related to the clarification process itself.

Bad feelings welcome! Which leads us straight to number 3:

#3 In Clarification Counseling®, “negative” is good

When negative connoted feelings never have a place, they don’t go away but grow heavier! That’s a baseline of the method. Therefore, feelings play a key role at many certain agenda points of the process. Then, all feelings are welcome, especially the “bad ones”. Just like a thunderstorm can clear the stuffy air of a scorching hot summer day, verbalizing challenging feelings like anger, rage, sadness or frustration can help find a resolution.

Remember: Clarification Counseling® aims for maximum clarity, that’s the ultimate goal. Dedicated to that fact, the dialogue phase (see picture above) is especially designed to help feelings to evolve from something vaguely perceived to something clearly labeled. It’s the job of the mediator to support this clarity as much as possible, and sometimes that makes feeling translation necessary. For example: A participant can express to be angry about a recent decision but the underlying feelings may be insecurity with a tad of resignation. The mediator translates for maximum clarity

Obviously, this phase is intense but also the phase where people involved start to recognize: Something is really going on here! Maybe we can get really further with our conflict.

#4 Clarification Counseling® is a strong signal

As outlined before, the process is especially appropriate for severe conflicts that may exist for a certain time already. When then the team lead or board invests precious time and money – up to two days – that’s a strong signal! And when after a struggle, side-taking, and secret sighs of despair suddenly everyone involved is sitting at one table, sharing emotions and literally painting a tangible picture of the dispute it often becomes clear: That’s different than anything we tried before.

Before you start

Clarification Counseling is powerful – and it’s very intense. You and your team will go right through the most uncomfortable emotions, not around. So, in your role as a manager and leader and therewith potential initiator of a clarification process, before you start please ask yourself:

  • Am I interested in truth and clarity in this conflict?
  • Am I ready to be actively involved in the whole process?
  • Am I ready to take responsibility for
    • presence of my people (order them to go if necessary)?
    • potential consequences?

So, is Clarification Counseling for you?

A working life without conflict is illusory: We should not invest in aiming at it as we should not invest in demonizing conflicts either. As is so often the case, acceptance opens up a scope of action. Having the conflict does say nothing about you and your team! But what you make out of it – especially as a leader carrying responsibility for your people – has a big impact. The line between a beneficial communication culture, of which dealing with conflicts is a part, and competitive, sustainable organizations has been drawn clearly and often enough. And while you’re working on yours, Clarification Counseling® might serve you very well.