There is plenty of evidence that conflict is an issue in the vast majority of workplaces, either because it’s being avoided in order to maintain artificial harmony, or because it’s being dealt with poorly. Either way it can lead to lost productivity and lost revenue. This is the main reason why you need to know how to deal effectively with conflict in order to increase performance and improve profits.
Causes of conflict
Most conflict stems from differences of some kind. Differences in information, in values and beliefs, in roles and functions, differences in perception. Other causes can include lack of trust, fear of the consequences and competitiveness, especially over scarce resources.
Whatever the cause, here are 5 strategies you can adopt to deal with conflict – from “The Magic of Conflict” by Thomas F Crum.
Avoiding – This can be effective when the issue is relatively unimportant and the risks of surfacing it outweigh the benefits of resolving it.
Accommodating – Useful when the issue is far more important to others than to you. However it isn’t appropriate when your input and/or commitment is required and you can’t give it.
Forcing – Good for when quick, decisive, action is called for or you need to implement an unpopular decision – but only if commitment isn’t needed.
Compromising – Although giving everyone some of what they want isnt likely to lead to a satisfactory outcome, compromising can work when the goals are mutually exclusive
Collaborating – When time isn’t an issue, working through difficult feelings and different perspectives can lead to a much better solution and stronger commitment to that solution
- What is your default position when dealing with conflict?
- If you have a current conflict going on in your life, which of the 5 strategies would be most effective?
I’m staying with my sister and brother in law for a few days which means that for once, I am not doing the driving. It wasn’t until I got in the car sitting behind Alec that I remembered what a terrible passenger I am. I found myself looking over his shoulder, focusing intently on the road and the traffic, the voice in my head saying things like:
“I hope he’s seen that traffic build up ahead……
Alec, show me a sign that you have seen the brake lights going on……..
SHOW ME A SIGN! ………
Oh thank god………… you’re braking………..
You brake a lot later than I do………”
Alec is a very competent driver; he just drives differently from me. It doesn’t matter whether I am with the best driver in the world, I find it difficult to hand over control. I have a burning desire to see signs that re-assure me that the driver is aware of any hazards and is ready to take action.
It can be a similar experience for managers who need to take a step back and let staff perform at their best and deliver the desired results, their own way. If you don’t, you’ll only make yourself nervous and create anxiety in them too.
I had a number of choices today. I could have continued to be hyper-vigilant, anxious and sweaty palmed and not say anything. I could have done what I’ve done in the past and told my brother in law I was feeling anxious and asked him to slow down, leave more space between cars etc., or I could do what I did which was to sit back and take in the scenery or focus my energy on something more productive like dealing with my emails.
As a manager, once you have allocated work, agreed deadlines, standards, reporting guidelines and everything else you need to put in place, how do you stop yourself being a back seat driver and hovering over the shoulder of your staff?
I have been listening to a number of managers recently who are feeling frustrated by colleagues and staff who aren’t doing what they should be doing or are behaving in ways that the manager finds unacceptable.
What really stands out for me is how much time and energy is being spent on these issues. The “problem” person is being discussed with numerous people, being thought about an inordinate amount of time, and is causing stress and frustration left right and centre.
In most cases, the “problem” person isn’t even aware there’s a problem. The manager is talking to everyone except the person involved.
It’s similar to driving along a road when someone suddenly zooms past and cuts you up. You are furious. “How dare they!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the road!” etc. You complain to whoever will listen, about the injustice of it all. You might even feel angry long after the event, whenever you think about it. Meanwhile the driver is oblivious to what they’ve done and the impact they’ve had on you.
The difference is, with colleagues at work you have the opportunity to address it. In fact, you have a professional responsibility to do so. If someone is under performing in terms of results, or behaviours, they need to be made aware of it and given the opportunity and support to put it right.
I don’t believe anyone sets out to be a poor performer. If they are falling short, there are numerous possible reasons for it. The most common ones are:
- They don’t know what to do
- They don’t know how to do it
- They don’t know why they should do it
- They think they are doing it
So, the next time you’re feeling frustrated by the actions or inaction of someone at work, just stop and think about why this might be happening. What could be getting in the way? Then go and have a frank conversation with them to discuss:
- Specifically what they are doing or not doing that isn’t working for you
- How their actions are impacting you, others or the task
- What you need them to do differently
- How they are going to achieve that, and what support they need
Just think, if someone at work was talking to everyone except you about an aspect of your work that they found unacceptable, would you rather they talk to you, or to everyone but you?
Is it time to grasp the nettle? You’ll need to make the first move.
Be honest, have you moaned about your boss today? this week? or this month? Many of us do, and some with good cause. The fact remains though; you need your boss more than your boss needs you. If you are in a difficult relationship with your boss you only really have two choices a) learn how to make it work as well as possible or b) leave.
Before you pack up your desk and shout “I’m out of here!” just remember, it’s a tough market out there, and bear in mind, your boss will insist he or she had to let you go because you just weren’t cutting the mustard.
So you decide to stay. What can you do?
As you progress up the organisation your boss is less likely to be able to accurately manage and measure your workload and outputs, so may just keep piling on the work until you finally buckle. That’s why you need to be really clear about what you can do, and by when, even if you dread having that potentially difficult conversation. When you agree expectations early, and revisit them often, it will save you from the even more difficult conversations when you are consistently failing to deliver results within the set deadlines.
Enlist the support of others
Identify and build strong relationships with other senior managers and influencers in the organisation. They may be people who seem to deal well with your boss, who you can learn from or ask advice. They may even be in a position to have a word directly with your boss, but only once you have won their trust and are not seen as a whinger or manipulator. If all else fails they may be a safety net that allows you to change department and work for them in the future.
Be aware that you are communicating every second of every day, even when you aren’t speaking. Make sure the message you are communicating is a positive one. When you show you are anxious, angry or stressed it can be detrimental to your credibility as a leader, has a bad effect on your health and well-being and will undermine the performance of your team, which in turn leads to more problems with the boss. Do whatever it takes to get support for yourself, stay positive and energised in your interactions, and supportive of your team.
What strategies have you used to manage upwards?
In the knowledge economy, virtual working is becoming increasingly common and more managers are seeking guidance on how to work with virtual teams effectively now they are losing the close, informal contact they have enjoyed until now, and aren’t able to guide or direct their staff quite as easily. Here are some suggestions for managing a virtual team.
Establish Ground Rules
Agreeing acceptable behaviours is probably even more important when it comes to virtual teams. The ground rules could include:
- the hours during which they are expected to be working and contactable
- communication response times
- attendance at meetings (whether face to face, Web-based, or by telephone)
Share Team Goals
A team is a group of people working towards common goals. It’s easy for people working alone to lose sight of this. Remind them regularly about the team objectives and how they are contributing to meeting them. Team members are more likely to collaborate with each other.
Arrange regular events
Look for ways to get the team together for both work related and social events. It allows them to get to know each other on a personal level as well as re-enforce the team identity.
Adapt the Sales Team model
Sales teams out on the road are used to working in this way and have well established processes to make it effective. They have targets to meet, ways of feeding back their activity and results to head office, and regular check in times with their bosses. While you may not have a culture of setting numerical targets it’s worth considering what you can adapt from this model including, measuring progress and results and making them visible across the team.
Allocate work with clarity and precision
Take extra care when allocating work because it’s not so easy for team members to come back and ask further questions. They need clear standards, timescales, reporting guidelines and possibly shorter timescales. Give work with 2 or 3 week timescales rather than 6 weeks. By the way, if you want to ensure the person is clear, don’t just repeat your message, or ask them if they are clear, ask them to summarise their understanding of what you’ve agreed.
Emphasise the Why and the What, not the How
My friend Mark Fritz talks eloquently about consistently communicating the Why and the What of the work, rather than the How. When members know WHY they are doing what they are doing and are clear on WHAT to do, rather than being told HOW to do it, they will take on more ownership and responsibility.
Adopt a coaching approach
Once you have these principles in place and are making progress and results visible across the team, it’s important to lead and coach rather than micro-manage. Ask good coaching questions to help people set their own stretching goals, find the best way of delivering on them and personally commit to them.
Do you have a virtual team?
What works well?
What are the challenges?
If you are managing a geographically dispersed team, you will be aware that distance brings its own complexities. In your attempt to get your people doing what you would like them to do, the tendency can be to try and micro-manage them rather than step back and lead them more effectively.
I recently interviewed Mark Fritz, an international leadership speaker who focuses on helping business leaders across the world to achieve even greater success in leading across distances & cultures.
During the interview Mark explained the unique challenges of leading across distances and why distance is the acid test for leadership. He pointed out that you can’t manage your way, or fire fight your way to leading an organisation. You can’t see what your people are doing all the time. You can’t correct them very quickly. You can’t have your people waiting for you to tell them what to do next. If you try to manage them you are slowing them, and your organisation, down to the speed of your own capacity rather than operating to the multiplication of other people’s capacity.
Mark knows that the key to managing across distances is to build ownership in your team members, for what they are doing. To hear more about the power of ownership and how to transfer ownership from you as the leader to your team members, listen to the 45 minute interview here and learn from the expert.
Mark will be “in the house” to answer your questions on how to lead your team, whether a virtual team working from their own homes or agents spread throughout the world. Do take this opportunity to put your questions and comments directly to Mark here on the blog.
- What question do you have for Mark?
- What works well for you? (either as a leader or a team member)
- What would you like to be different?