You again? Why the same old conflicts refuse to resolve.

We’ve all been there … the team meeting where the same issue keeps coming up over and over … and then over again. Just when you think it has been resolved, addressed, or dealt with, it pops up again – this time with more emotion and more charge to it.

That’s what happened to Sita’s team.

“I can’t believe this issue continues to take up time and energy at our staff meetings,” said Sita, a frontline supervisor in a government department. “We’ve dealt with this so many times, I thought we resolved it two years ago, yet here we go again.”

Sita is not alone; many leaders have found themselves in a similar situation – revisiting old issues time and time again. In fact, Jamal, an HR team lead, says he’s constantly facing, “same conflict, different day, different people.”

One of the challenges with workplace conflict is how the loop was closed – or not closed – at the end. Often, people feel such relief that the awkward conversation (the conflict) is over, that they start to tune out and the resolution plan (who does what by when and how) does not get the focus and attention it deserves.

People work hard in these conversations; they need to be vulnerable and manage their emotions, and they need to find solutions that everyone can live with. And this can be messy and challenging. When the solution is decided on, it’s essential that the next steps be take place to ensure the agreements and resolutions stick.

This requires attitude and behavior shifts from all involved. When we’re just so relieved to have the conflict and its associated stress addressed, we can breeze over discussing HOW to make the agreement work, and WHAT we’ll do if things fall off the tracks.

Additionally, often when a conversation concludes, there’s often another critical piece missing – follow up. As we are closing our conversations, we need to complete the loop. Ensuring a plan is set for follow up will ensure:

  • Parties involved understand what the outcome/agreement is
  • What is required to make it work
  • How involved parties will contribute to making the agreement work

At the same time, setting up a check in now for a few weeks out to assess how the solution is working and to uncover issues that may be surfacing gives clear direction and expectations to all involved.

If the issue does resurface, we can address it differently. For example, Sita might say, “I’m curious as to why this issue is on the agenda again. Two weeks ago when we discussed it, we came up with a solid plan and outcome, we each voiced what our contribution to the solution would be and confirmed what the resolution was. Everyone all confirmed their support. The issue has come up again, so help me understand what happened between the resolution we all agreed to and now.”

Coming from a place of curiosity and reminding people of the steps taken in closing the loop is helpful and promotes accountability.

Another strategy I use in my work is a Decision Tracker – a chart that simply outlines the date, the decision that was made (clearly spelled out), the rationale for the decision, messaging to the organization, and how it will be monitored. It can also be referred to in meeting minutes. This is a quick and easy reference tool for leaders.

Here are some final words of wisdom for dealing with issues that continue to show up that you thought were resolved: Address issues quickly. Don’t let them fester and build in intensity. Addressing them quickly will help minimize rumours, gossip, frustration, and inaccurate information.

Ask questions. If old issues continue to surface, query WHY the issue is on the table again. Open ended questions (who, what, where, when, why and how) are very helpful in these conversations because they draw out information that can be so important in understanding how the loop keeps opening.