One of the biggest challenges that we see when we deal with organizations and that we face in our own lives is dealing with conflict and the inability to resolve conflict. When conflict enters any organization—and, remember, an organization is when two or more people are in a relationship—it not only makes it difficult relationally, but it can cause the organization to underperform or to be less effective. Let me show you how to build a tool to help you resolve conflict in any situation that you might come up against. We refer to this tool as the social covenant.

The First Question to Answer
The first thing I’d like to get you to do is to sit down with a team member or visualize yourself with someone on your team or with your team and ask this question:

When we’re together, how do we want to treat one another?

After you have done that, what I’d like you to do is to write down a list of words to describe how you want to treat each other. This next step is to write down a list of words that answer this question. You may write words like respect, honesty, positively, and encourage one another. Take some time and start your list. If you are working with others or with your team, invite everyone to contribute to the list.

The Second Question to Answer
When you have completed your list and after you agree with your team about how you’re going to treat each other, ask this second question:

How would we want to deal with it if one of us broke the agreement, or what process would we use to resolve breaking that agreement?

To answer that question, write down clearly defined action steps that would need to be taken to resolve the breaking of this social covenant. This section of the social covenant should clearly define action steps that need to be followed if the social covenant is broken. Again, take some time and write down what process you think would be best to implement. If you’re working with others or with your team, invite everyone to contribute to the process that would needed to resolve the conflict when the social covenant is broken.

The Importance of Accountability
When you have written down a specific process and after you and your team agree about the process you want to follow, please remember that the process of dealing with conflict is not a process at all if it does not include some kind of accountability. If you want to allow poor behavior and poor relationships in your organization, then don’t hold people accountable for that poor behavior. If you want more effectiveness, higher performance, and healthier relationships, there must be accountability. It must be written into the agreement, that agreement that answers the question how we are going to treat each other and how we are going to deal with it if that agreement is broken.

Here’s why accountability is so vital. The effectiveness of the social covenant rests completely on the extent to which everyone works toward its desired end. All members must be willing to be held accountable for themselves, and each team member must be willing to hold each other accountable, as well. I’ll be completely honest with you. If you write a social covenant and don’t walk it out, you’ll do more damage than if you had never written it.

There’s a saying by a man named Eliyahu M. Goldratt, “Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way, do not complain about illogical behavior.” So if I say to someone I’m going to behave this way and treat you this way and yet there’s no accountability if I don’t, our agreement doesn’t work very well.

Four Ways to Approach Others
Finally, if the social covenant is broken and one of us does not follow the behavior we agreed upon, we need to approach that person in appropriate and effective ways so that the conflict can be resolved. We need to go to them face-to-face, first, and then we need to go to them in humility because we need to be open about possibly being wrong about what we think happened with the other person. A good conversation opener would be a comment that says I could be wrong, and then ask if you could share something with them.

The next way we should approach someone we think has broken the social covenant is with pre-forgiveness. That simply means we have already forgiven what took place and we are trying to rebuild the relationship.

The third way we need to approach others when we are trying to resolve conflict is to go in love to show that you care about the other person. That simply means that you care more about that person than you do about how that person might feel about you.  

Lastly, we say that we need to approach others with 100 percent of the truth, not just your side, but all the facts that make up the truth in the situation.

The Truth about Conflict
If you can change your thought to the idea that every relationship is far more important than any conflict, this process will be much easier. And, remember, conflict is not bad. Unresolved conflict is bad. In a company, conflict plus resolution leads to unity, engagement, and productivity. In a marriage, conflict plus resolution leads to intimacy. In a close friendship, conflict plus resolution leads to deeper friendship. 

The social covenant is one of the tools in Transformational Leadership that changes relationships and changes cultures, and it helps us look at ourselves and others in new ways. When we establish a social covenant, when we hold ourselves and others accountable to what we’ve agreed to, and when we approach others in the right ways, we become effective transformational leaders who contribute to the organizations of which we are a part and who help all of us perform at higher levels and with greater integrity.