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FIRE: Steps to Extinguish Employee Conflict

FIRE: Steps to Extinguish Employee Conflict

By Amy Landry, SHRM-CP, MBTI© Certified Practitioner

People are complicated. People come equipped with emotions, attitudes, values, scars, needs, and beliefs; and, they bring all of that baggage to the workplace. These differences will undoubtedly lead to workforce conflict; however, identifying differences can help individuals understand the other person and ultimately, resolve conflict. Once we can begin to understand them, we can develop empathy for their position and their problem. When utilized properly, conflict is an opportunity to grow or reach a new potential. To do this, we have to remember the steps of FIRE: Figure out underlying needs and concerns, Involve both parties to find a solution, Respond don’t react, and Extinguish with empathy.

Can you make people get along?

Some might reason no, but I believe we can. We are capable of teaching others to respect perspectives and compromise. However, resolving conflict is a skill and many managers have received little to no training in resolving employee conflict. In fact, many managers don’t like to deal with conflict and hope the issues eventually resolve themselves. What managers don’t realize is that the average employee spends almost three hours a week dealing with conflict and over 359 billion dollars is lost in productivity each year from dealing with unresolved conflict. For these reasons, it’s important that we train ourselves as managers and leaders to help others work through work force conflict.

What is conflict?

Conflict as defined by the American Heritage® Dictionary is a real or perceived threat or opposition to one’s needs, interests, principles, concerns, or security.

At the center of conflict is communication; more often than not, it is due to the lack of communication.

What can I do about conflict?

While it may be daunting to help extinguish conflict in the work force, with a bit of practice and the FIRE method, you can effectively and efficiently resolve workforce conflict. Additionally, the FIRE method helps build empathy and understanding between and among co-workers, which serves to reduce potential conflict in the future.

The first step is the letter F:  Figure Out Underlying Needs and Concerns.

Imagine an iceberg. What can you see? Just the tip. What’s underneath? What is the root of the problem?  Dig down. Asking great questions before jumping into problem solving mode or can help you maximize the solution.  Too often, we jump into problem solving mode. However, the more information you have about the cause of the conflict, the more easily you can help to resolve it.

To get the information you need, use a series of questions to identify the cause, like, “When did you feel upset?” “Do you see a relationship between that and this incident?” “How did this incident begin?”

Look beyond the incident. Often, it is not the situation but the perspective on the situation that causes anger to fester and ultimately leads to a shouting match or other visible—and disruptive—evidence of a conflict.

And the most important step in resolving conflict is to always focus on the problem, NOT the person. Conflict resolution should be about dealing with the ISSUE and focusing on the problem. Conflict can turn ugly and heated when it becomes EMOTIONAL BLAMING or focused on the person.

I: Involve both parties to find common ground and identify possible solutions.

The goal is to identify solutions both disputants can support. You are listening for the most acceptable course of action. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only from each other’s perspective, but in terms of the benefits to the organization. For instance, you might point to the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to effectively address team issues and departmental problems.

R: Respond, Don’t React.  

Tempers can flare at a moment’s notice and conflict can have serious consequences.

When we encounter a situation that we believe we are not in control of, our “fight or flight” reaction kicks in. In most situations, the “flight” is not an option. We react instead of respond.

As a leader and mediator, it is imperative that you encourage employees to respond and not react.  There are several good techniques to encourage choosing to respond. In order to resolve conflict effectively, one must be in control of their emotion and have had the ability to calm down. When emotions are in control, then one’s logical and reasoning can take over and this will allows the individual truly the opportunity to listen clearly to the issues and be open to compromising or collaborating. Timing and location is everything. Individuals need time to cool off and the location needs to be private.  If issues are discussed in the heat of the moment, then the natural reactions can take over and the issue can become explosive.

E: Extinguish with Empathy.  

Empathy is sensing another's feelings and attitudes as if we had experienced them ourselves. It is our willingness to enter another's world, and being able to communicate to that person our sensitivity to them. It is not blind sentimentality; it always retains some objectivity and distance.

We do not lose our own identity, though we discover our common humanity.

Create empathy by:

  • Taking seriously others' needs and concerns
  • Valuing feelings and attitudes
  • Respecting others' privacy, experience and values
  • Listening actively
  • Encouraging further elaboration and clarification
  • Using open body language and a warm vocal tone
  • Reserving judgement and blame
  • Displaying interest in what others communicate
  • Withholding unsought advice
  • Supporting others' attempts to find a solution
  • Making affirming statements and gestures.


Here’s the thing - leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion then you should not be in a leadership role. If you can work through conflict and help others work through conflict, you can help create a more positive work environment where people feel comfortable opening up and honestly sharing their thoughts and ideas with others. Just remember to follow the four steps of FIRE: Figure out underlying needs and concerns, Involve both parties to find a solution, Respond don’t react, and Extinguish with empathy.






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My name is Holly-Anne Palmer!  I'm the Owner of Happy Hour Entertainment and a proud member of MPI Gulf States.  I'm honored to be a part of the Communications and Event Team of MPI this year and am looking forward to a wonderful year of blogging about current members, trends and exciting changes in our industry!  For my first interview I reached out to my dear friend Valerie Grubb, the powerhouse behind Human Resource Consulting and Training Firm, Val Grubb and Associates, author of best selling books including the newly released "Clash of The Generations" and the newly minted President of the New Orleans Film Society.   Check out what she has to say!

H-A – Val, I'm so thrilled to get your feedback for our MPI Gulf States Blog for August! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! 

VG – My pleasure to have the opportunity!

H-A – For our members that haven’t had the incredible opportunity of meeting you, please give us a little bit of your background.  

VG – I’ve had my own HR Consulting and Training practice, Val Grubb & Associates, for nine years.  Prior to this, I helped to found the Oxygen Channel for Oprah Winfrey, Geraldine Laybourne and Marcy Carsey. It was fantastic fun (in addition to being a lot of work) and when we sold the company to NBC Universal, I took a senior role at the new parent company, but it just wasn’t the same.  I yearned for the freedom that comes with running your own show and thus, I went out on my own, specializing in Human Resources/Operations.  I regularly consult for small to mid-range companies wishing to expand, and larger companies seeking efficiencies in their operations.

Meanwhile, I’m a recent transplant to New Orleans (I moved here in January of 2016 after 18 years in NYC) and a few months after arriving, a dear friend approached me about joining the Board of the New Orleans Film Society.  I immediately said yes and am thrilled to share that I took over as President of the Board July 1st, 2017!  I’m honored to be helming the Society as we enter into our 28th Film Festival this fall!

H-A – Now that you have been in New Orleans for over a year? and have begun to immerse yourself in the event community, what do you find are some of the strengths of the New Orleans event industry versus New York, where you have spent a great deal of time? What makes New Orleans stand out?  And what can be improved upon? 

VG – Oh my goodness! I thought New York was a party town – NYC has nothing on New Orleans!!!! NOTHING!! There is such a love of life in New Orleans that is unlike anywhere else in the world and that joie de vivre shows up everywhere: parties, galas, Mardi Gras and other holidays.  The general frivolity and excitement of events in New Orleans constantly permeates the city. There is a lightness of spirit in NOLA that NYC just doesn’t have and I think that allows for greater FUN here. New Orleans allows you to be who you are - and events can really reflect what matters to a person at their core.  NYC can be about “upping the Joneses” while here it’s about catering to your soul. And NOLA knows soul. That is certainly one thing that makes NOLA stand-out from NYC and the rest of the world to be honest.

Other strengths of the event community here is the Southern Hospitality element.  I thought that was a myth before moving here but people really do care that you have a great time at an event and that you feel well taken care of at every turn.  You’re not a number here – you’re somebody who matters!  As an example, I’m pretty involved with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), which hosted its annual conference here in June of this year, and I threw several parties in conjunction with the conference.  One party at the New Orleans School of Cooking was particularly concerning for me as it was for current and future clients.  I cannot even begin to tell you how NOSC  went over-the-top to ensure that my event blew my clients’ socks off! They cared as much as I did and that is unique and very special. That’s simply just not the norm in NYC or a lot of other cities. And I’ve seen that same level of caring in other parties I’ve thrown for the Film Society.

Hmmmmm…improvements. That’s a tough one for me as I’m just so in love with New Orleans right now!  Ha, ha, ha. Can I say parking?  I’ve gotten thousands of dollars’ worth of parking tickets and I drive a Vespa! So better parking would be great! And holy cow FIX THE POTHOLES!!  Oh wait, not sure MPI members can fix that, but ya never know!

H-A – What type of environment do you want to focus on when planning your upcoming NOFS events - for example, VIP Parties, Your Fall Opening Party, Your Spring Gala?  What do you think will make NOFS's events stand out, and why? 

VG – The Film Society parties really span the gamut! The opening night party to kick off the Film Festival (October 11th, 2017) tops out at 1,000 guests and really requires a va-va-voom environment to WOW sponsors, celebrities and guests.  And this is just the beginning, as we host parties every other night during the Festival, including the filmmakers awards ceremony where prizes are given out to the top movie picks.  It’s a really magical (but exhausting!) nine days in October.  Over the coming weeks, I will be excited to share hotels, restaurants and party spaces that we’ve partnered with for our upcoming 28th Film Festival!

Each Spring we hold a fundraising gala that absolutely requires a WOW factor.  We like to have our guests celebrate the achievements of the year and celebrate in fantastic Great Gatsby style.  This is typically one of our top rated events, and I love to see our guests feeling so decadent on this fabulous night out!

H-A – What has been the BEST event that you have attended in New Orleans thus far, and why?  What stood out?  What was memorable?  

VG – Wow this is a Sophie’s Choice moment – how can I pick just one?!?! I hate to say it, but I’m not sure I can pick a single event as I’m still a kid in a candy store while mom and dad wait outside! I’m loving every party I go to and feel I’m still learning and exploring. I must admit though that those parties that stand-out are those that embrace the culture of New Orleans such as including a Second Line, serving local dishes and cocktails, incorporating masks and boas or other Mardi Gras themes, providing entertainment from a brass band or other local favorites. Those small touches can go a long way for tourists hosting events in New Orleans as well as locals who all have a very hefty sense of pride in our community.

H-A – Let's say you're looking to put together a team building event for an HR client after giving a talk about how to better communicate in the workplace.  What would the "after hours" team building event be?  What would the goals of the event be, and how could a planner help you to achieve them? 

VG –  Another event I hosted in June during the SHRM conference is a great example of how a planner is such an asset when planning an event.  I led a workshop on themes from my new book Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality (which deals with how to manage multiple generations in the office).  I needed a space that was conducive to hardcore networking including several activities that required interaction amongst the generations, a working lunch and break-out space that varied in size throughout the day.

My planner started with my goals for the workshop: learning, interaction, flow, intimate yet large enough to move around, multi-purpose, etc.  Then she had me walk through the presentation, focusing on the exercises, and we talked through logistically how we could accomplish everything in the same space.  I was originally thinking of renting one large room with smaller rooms nearby, but she was able to create a lay-out that gave privacy amongst the groups. It was perfect as I could move quickly and easily from group to group (and I figured out it would have been a nightmare if I had to move from room to room). I needed to see when the teams as a whole were done so I could move on (and not lose anyone because they finished so early and got distracted).  Another thing she was very cognizant of is my pet peeve with hearing dishes clanging while someone is speaking.  It sends me over the edge.  My planner made sure that didn’t happen!  In addition to all of this, she helped me plan all my after-hours festivities which built on the themes from the day, while also highlighting the beauty of the city.  It was a marvelous day (and most importantly, I got business out of the event!).

A great event planner educates me on how they can help me achieve my goals. They take the burden of logistics off my back, but they go beyond that to help me create a brand image that makes attendees want to work with me. And THAT is an AMAZING thing and really separates the great planners from the merely good ones.



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On this day, 20 years ago, MPI Gulf States Chapter became official! As an organization, we provide innovative and relevant education, networking opportunities, business exchanges, and act as a prominent voice for the promotion and growth of the meetings industry. We are proud to be 172 members strong and look forward to the next 20 years as the premiere meetings and events organization in the Gulf States.

Join us in celebrating 20 years at 11:00 AM on Friday, January 20, 2017 at Marché for our monthly luncheon and education topic “TRENDS & PREDICTIONS IN THE MEETINGS INDUSTRY”, presented by Michael Dominguez, Chief Sales Officer of MGM Resorts International and a member of the MPI International Board of Directors. 

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