Let’s face it, if you put two people together in any given situation, the likelihood that conflict may arise is extremely high. What is conflict? Conflict is disagreement, but contrary to popular belief conflict does not necessarily involve fighting. Conflict exists in any situation where facts, desires or fears pull or push participants against each other or in divergent directions.
Conflict is a normal and natural part of any workplace. When it occurs, however, there is a tendency for morale to be lowered, an increase in absenteeism and decreased productivity. It has been estimated that managers spend at least 25 percent of their time resolving workplace conflicts — causing lowered office performance.
One reason there is so much conflict in the workplace is primarily because most people simply haven’t learned how to resolve conflict before it turns into fighting, or more often than not, try to avoid conflict at all cost. This is why we have so many ‘elephants in the room’ which grow and fester. The problem with this is everyone is expending massive amounts of energy trying to avoid these ‘landmines’ and find themselves feeling they are treading on ‘eggshells’, avoiding bosses and peers, ignoring a colleagues bad behavior or poor performance, and seemingly are unable to have productive and fruitful conversations.
I have seen up-close and personal numerous situations where the absence of conflict resolution has led to disastrous outcomes and many wasted hours of employees time and energy. I was made aware of a manager who on a daily basis would appear to be involved in a negative interaction with either a peer or her manager. On one occasion, she took it upon herself to barge into a closed door meeting with her boss who was having a private (skip level) meeting with her employee. She demanded to know from her boss why he was meeting with her employee — even though there was a company wide initiative encouraging skip level meetings, in order to break down communication bottlenecks within management. Neither the manager’s boss or the employee confronted the situation, but avoided the conflict because of either the shock of what had happened, or just not wanting to appear to be a part of the problem. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a contentious situation?
I’d like to provide three steps to moving you and your workplace, and even your home, to working through conflict. I believe this approach may get you the results that may have eluded you to date:
- Engage both parties in an empathic way. This is, recognizing that both parties have been affected on an emotional level — they may be angry, bitter, wounded, fearful, even disgusted by the other person. If individuals are unable to express and label their emotions (how they’ve been impacted), they will not be able to move onto working through solutions. There is often a danger in these situations to expect people to “act” like professionals. Unfortunately, this approach never works, because what makes us human is our ability to feel and express a very wide range of emotions. Ultimately, when both parties acknowledge the other persons feelings, they can begin to the next step.
- Allow both parties to explain their version of the events. Sounds incredibly simple. But it is because of misunderstanding — in the first place, that conflict has arisen. When I conduct a mediation session or coaching an individual through a challenging situation, it is without fail, that the parties have a different understanding of what has transpired. And if the conflict has risen to the level to require mediation, then there is significant misunderstanding on many levels. Often times, it can be very difficult to have individuals clearly articulate the events without creeping back into misunderstanding. The ability to listen deeply to both parties and understand how each individual has contributed to the conflict will enable you to identify potential solutions.
- Create a psychologically safe environment for the individuals. When conflict arises, it will always have an impact on trust between people. It is staggering to me how many times this critical factor is overlooked. Again, the workplace can often feel cold and inhumane when we fail to recognize how allowing conflict to exist amongst co-workers on a daily basis is damaging, if not traumatic, to an individual’s psyche. In a recent study at Google, they found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, were more successful. As leaders and managers, it is our job to protect people from work environments that are dysfunctional. We dare not abdicate our mandate to create environments where people can thrive, lest we expose our associates to emotional trauma, anxiety and stress.
So when the conflict inevitably arises, follow these three steps and you will minimize the negative impact of conflict at work.
If you have had a boss in your professional life, which is probably everyone reading this, you are acutely aware of the impact they have on you professionally and personally. They have either helped you succeed on the job, or have possibly created obstacles to your success. They may have supported your wishes to balance your family obligations with your career, or caused you to sacrifice your family to succeed at work. They perhaps gave you opportunities to grow and develop and are partly responsible for the success you are experiencing in your career. Or, they have been ambivalent towards you and your colleagues, by demonstrating no interest in your career, but only in their success. If you are like me, I’ve experienced all the aforementioned scenarios. I think you will agree that the type of boss we have, or the kind of boss we are, is extremely critical to our daily work experience and entire career. Said another way, your boss directly impacts the quality of your life. According to Robert Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst, having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack!
I’d like to suggest the following steps to help you begin the journey of becoming a better boss.
- Understand that you have the greatest impact on your employee’s engagement — which is both their commitment to the job and their performance on the job. The latest research from Gallup finds that 70% of U.S workers are disengaged — “checked out,” sleeping-walking through their days. Recently, I overheard two business professionals chatting at lunch, and I could tell by the conversation that they were discussing situations at work. When they were finished with their lunch, one of the individuals said, “Back to the unhappy place!” I had to ask what they meant by that comment. Their response, “You don’t want to know!”
- The need for bosses to develop self-awareness has never been more important. Your emotional intelligence quotient should be a priority right up there with your knowledge of your business. A good boss knows themselves well, as well as knows the business well. If you’re not already aware, your employees are listening and watching everything you do and say! If that doesn’t cause you a little concern, I would question whether you are “fit” to be a twenty-first-century boss! I recently interviewed a client’s executive team, and in giving feedback to my client from those interviews, they responded numerous times with regret that they have behaved in ways that had undermined their credibility. When I asked if they were aware of their actions at the time, they often surmised that they were completely unaware. So my question to you is, are you not watching your boss closely, hopefully to learn from them? If they are thoughtful, kind, respectful, intelligent and fun, then it is likely that you will adopt some of these good qualities. On the other hand, if they are dishonest, obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant, you may have to fight your better self to fend of adopting such destructive characteristics.
- A twenty-first-century boss listens to his or her employees. I remember a former boss who during our 1-on-1 meetings would spend the entire hour typing and looking at her screen. Either she found me incredibly dull and boring, or she was oblivious to the fact that by typing on her keyboard and glancing at me on occasion sent a strong message to me that she could not be listening to me.The twenty-first-century boss does everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride. Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants. Today’s bosses must have a keen awareness that people in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what followers need, do, and say. If you will make a commitment to listening well, you can stave of falling into the trap of becoming a bad boss. In conclusion I’d like to leave you with a selection of Bob Sutton’s “Commandments for Wise Bosses”:
- Do not treat others as if they are idiots
- Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say
- Ask a lot of good questions
- Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance
- Do not hesitate to say, “ I don’t know”
- Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone
- Know your foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses
- Express gratitude to your people.
To be a better twenty-first-century boss, you must remind yourself that you are a steward — of careers, capabilities, resources and organizational values. Challenge yourself today — to be a better boss — nothing less should be acceptable.
You may recall this saying from Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” What I have found to be true for many of us, is that we may have goals and aspirations, but we often miss the opportunities to be intentional in many areas of our lives — especially in our professional and interpersonal relationships. When I use the word intentional, think of words like deliberate, calculated, conscious, purposeful, which are all words of action and purpose. I think what Yogi Berra is saying is, living a life without intention, is a life lived without purpose or direction. As an executive and life coach, one of my objectives is to help my clients articulate their goals, priorities, and the vision they have for their organization or their lives. This is where the power of intention becomes palpable and tangible. Until we begin writing down our goals and priorities, we are in ‘wish’ mode, (it’s a start); but once we can see these goals in black and white, or we can talk them through with another person, we have moved to the mindset of intentionality.
Here are some suggestions to get you started on the road to discovering the Power of Intention:
- Ask yourself with complete honesty if you have or are making a difference in the world! This question need not overwhelm you; you are taking the time to reflect on yourself and how you are caring first for yourself, and secondly, how you are impacting those around you. My personal journey into coaching is a result of such personal reflection. I frequently receive a calls from colleagues, clients, and friends beginning with these words, ‘You are first person I want to share this with…”When those around you want to share their successes with you, you have become someone they trust and someone they consider a cheerleader and a believer in you! Similarly, if you regularly receive kind words and compliments from those around you, take note of this — it is a reflection of how you make others feel about themselves. Corporations and organizations everywhere could stand to promote behaviors and practices that foster cultures where people are encouraged to make a difference.
- Write down a list of your priorities and identify if how you are spending your time matches those priorities. Last summer I attempted to ride my son’s single speed bike up a steep hill by Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, CA. It became painfully apparent to me that I wasn’t in any kind of physical condition to achieve this goal. I decided at that time that I needed to do something about that. So upon returning from our vacation, I purchased my own single speed bicycle and have made it an almost daily activity to ride my bike for about ten minutes around my neighborhood. One year later, I was able to navigate to the top of that same steep hill in Newport Beach from Pacific Coast Highway with success. I became aware, that if my health and fitness were incredibly important to me, then I had to become intentional about making exercise a priority.
- Resolve to begin living life with a new sense of purpose. Another way to say this is, get to know your true self. As Robert S. Kaplan of Harvard Business School says of staying true to oneself as a leader, “ A business career is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’ve adopted a leadership style that doesn’t suit your skills, values, and personality, you’ll wear down”. This hopefully rings true for all of us professionally and personally. When I work with clients, we engage in a Socratic dialog — a back-and-forth discussion which leads to ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moments. You can begin this journey yourself by taking personality assessments such as discprofile.com or strengths assessments like strengthfinder.com. You may want to go further to understand and test ihhp.com your emotional intelligence quotient. The power of intention, as it relates to your personal development will serve as jet-fuel in both living a life of purpose and getting to know your true self. Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a short paper (50 pages) titled People Strategies – People at the Strategic Center. As I look back over the topics I covered, I realize that this was more of journal or personal manifesto of how I wanted to lead the teams I managed, build a culture of high performance and teamwork, mentoring and coaching, employee engagement, and developing people and leaders. During this process, it became crystal clear to me what I stood for and believed to be most important to me professionally and personally. Recently I struck up a relationship with an internationally recognized keynote speaker and author, as I was curious about the revolutionary concepts this person presented. A few months into this relationship I shared the aforementioned document with this individual and they wrote the following in response; ”I hope your organization recognizes what they have in you. I have met hundreds of executives in my career and few demonstrate the courage and integrity that comes through so loud and clear in our conversations and you’re writing. Thank you for sharing David!”Reading those words right now serves as reminder to me to continue to live a life of intentional purpose, and being true to oneself!
This installment on the Power of Intention reflects an analysis of any individual who has lived their lives as difference-makers. They have made a difference, perhaps changed the world, because they were people of intention.
Have you ever taken the time to reflect on an enjoyable conversation? It is very likely that if and when you have had the pleasure of such a conversation, it is because both individuals are listening intently to the other. I was recently reminded by a speaker that, people living in the twenty-first century are the most overly stimulated and distracted at any time in human history. This implies that we are extremely busy and preoccupied, and frequently distracted when we spend time with others.
Recently I found myself eavesdropping on a few conversations at my local coffee shop. What has struck me about some of these interactions are a) the participants do not appear to be enjoying the others company, b) the tone can be tense and somewhat frantic, and c) each person walks away with a ‘look’ of dissatisfaction or ambivalence.I have a sense that these kinds of interactions are far too common place which I believe are a direct result of our inability to give ourselves completely to others – to be present – in conversation or otherwise. I recently listened to a group engaged in such an interaction, and noticed that they did not seem the least bit interested in what each person had to say, but rather were looking for openings where they could ‘throw in their two cents’! Why would anyone choose to spend their time in such an unrewarding way? Do you want to have a conversation with someone who isn’t listening? Emphatically no! Listening well requires us to be genuinely interested in what the person we are speaking with has to say.
For several years, I have come to believe that the most important communication skill, is the ability to listen well. Think for a minute why relationships end, or wars start, or the source of conflict in the workplace; is it not true that one party fails to understand or ‘hear’ what the other is saying or even chooses deliberately not to listen? Most people who consider themselves to have achieved some level of success in their relationships recognize that this ability to listen well is the lubricant of healthy relationships. And yet I am not aware of any school or university that teaches children and young people the importance of learning this major life skill. Many of us do not learn this personally until we are sitting across from a therapist trying to understand what went wrong with a partner or our children. Or equally confounding is when a supervisor is providing feedback which doesn’t match our version of things – an indication that one of the two parties has not heard the same thing. I recall coaching a client who was adamant that the contents of her disciplinary action was ‘completely inaccurate’. Clearly another example of the inability of two individuals to communicate and listen well to each other.
As I reflect on this important life skill, I am reminded that some people make it more difficult than others for us to practice this skill. During the holidays, we may find ourselves pushed to our emotional limits which leaves next-to-nothing in our self-control reservoirs. It is this emotional intelligence skill which we need to draw on, so that we can choose how we will interact with those close to us in those moments when we are challenged to listen well. According to Mary Mitchell, author of Class Acts: How Good Manners Create Good Relationships and Good Relationships Create Good Business, “Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants.”
As you approach the holidays, fully recognizing that we may find ourselves squeezed in many ways, I believe that we can experience very enjoyable conversations with others if we can apply a few principles to our listening.Try the following: Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
- Use Empathy vs. Sympathy
- Suspend Judgement
- Don’t Interrupt
- Tolerate Silence
- Experience the Total Message
- Ask Open-Ended Questions
- Show That You’re Listening
- Remember Why Listening is Important
PERSONAL MISSION QUESTIONS
Why am I in the world?
What is my overarching purpose?
What would I like to be said of me after I’m gone?
What difference is it going to have made that I was here?
PERSONAL VALUE QUESTIONS
What is really important to me?
What do I stand for?
What three values do I want to live by?
Which of those is most important?
Are you willing to be different?
Does looking good come first?
Is wasting time a threat to you?
Are you strictly the nuts-and-bolts type?
How comfortable are you with rocking the boat?
Can you let others take credit? – “ You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done when you don’t worry about who gets the credit”.
How adventurous are you?
Are you all for quick solutions?
How’s your trust level?
Can you give up control?
Can you handle disagreement and criticism?
Can you go the distance?
Are you in your job to do something, or are you in your job for something to do?
How would I like to change the world for my organization and myself?
How do I want to be remembered?
If I could invent the future, what future would I want for my organization and myself?
What’s my dream about my work?
What’s my most distinctive skill or talent?
What does my ideal organization look like?