“So what, now what?” in conflict resolution

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I strongly believe a great manager should as a general rule be aiming for as many win/win scenarios as possible, ones which have a productive outcome for all parties. However there will always be moments where staff are so stuck in a mindset that taking the step by step understanding approach as the first port of call will not achieve what is required. Often two sides can be so entrenched in their own sense of being right that finding a middle ground, a third way, just isn’t possible without first getting them out of that “am i right” mindset. Likewise a whole team can have become so frustrated by something that a culture of complaining has become the norm and no amount of listening to these issues makes a difference to that starting attitude. It is in these situations that the “So what! Now what?” approach is required.

“So what! Now what?” is required often to break negative fixed mindsets.

A “so what, now what?” approach to conflict is based on the premise that you focus everyone in that moment not on their complaints but rather on what can be done about the situation right now.  I remember a time on the summer camp where nearly all our staff had become so frustrated by the bad behavior of a child that a culture of complaining about everything the child did had been created. Luckily there was one staff member who has a different bond with this camper and he was propping up the work of the other staff and dealing with almost all the discipline issues on his own. As the situation didn’t see sustainable, I decided to have a sit down intervention meeting.

Interventions can be the perfect context for “So what! Now what?”

I made clear from the offset i was focused on resolving the situation over understanding it. I told the staff to raise all their concerns. I listened and didn’t interrupt once. They told me: how the child didn’t listen, how he was aggressive, how he shouldn’t be on summer camp, how he had sworn at them, how he was so much work… the list went on and on for 5 minutes of venting. When things calmed down, I said just one thing: “So what! Now what? What are we going to do about it?”. The staff were expecting me either to agree and show sympathy or to reprimand their attitude but through this one statement I indicated complaints don’t matter right now as they won’t resolve the issue, action will.

“So what! Now what?”: acts as trigger to get people to focus on what they need to do, over the problems or strains the issue is causing them.

Nobody knew what to say so finally I turned to the staff member who had been bonding well with the camper and I asked him the question: what do you think we should do about it? He told the rest of the staff we needed to first understand and accept Pablo didn’t misbehave deliberately to annoy us. Then he said we had to get Pablo to believe it was in his interest to behave better as Pablo was used to everyone in his past thinking he would always misbehave and all our attitude of believing he wanted to misbehave was making his bad behavior almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. At this point another staff member said “but he is so rude and angry?” and I immediately replied “So what! Now What? What are we going to do about it?”. The other staff member then continued letting us know what he was doing and what he felt we should all do. Every so often someone would bring up another complaint about Pablo but each time i would interrupt with “So What! Now what? and each time it had the result of taking us back to what we had to do over focusing on our complaints.

“So what! Wow what?” had the effect of getting people to focus on action over complaints.

Bit by bit the other staff started to embrace the action orientated mindset and after 15 minutes we were all working together on a plan of action. Everyone one was on board with the fact it was our duty as educators to try and make this work, whereas before the focus had been only on complaining about the issue. From that moment the staff as a team focused on what we could do, over the problem we had and things with Pablo improved remarkably. His bad behavior didn’t stop altogether but when he realized we were on his side to help him behave better, he on the whole worked with us, instead of against us and bit by bit things he started to control his behavior. The spirit of the team was lifted too and many of the team were genuinely proud at what they had achieved with Pablo. And it all started with that trigger switch of “So what! Now what?” that approach that didn’t leave any space in that moment for focusing on complaints.

Aim for “So what! Now what?” to become something your staff expect to hear when there is deadlock in the way people view things.




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