The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
In his book Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that the fifth habit is, ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’. Most conflict occurs when people are stuck in their own position and are not prepared to see or appreciate the other person’s point of view. Learn More
Giving instructions and bossing people around is easy when people do as you say. The problems come when we realise that we are dealing with people and not robots.
Managers are paid to manage and motivate real human beings and this is bound to involve people problems from time to time. Learn More
Dealing with conflict situations is not an easy option for most people at work. They tend to lean toward the extremes, rather than the solution, that is, they either become aggressive, passive-aggressive or submissive.
None of these behavioural traits are the most effective way of dealing with a conflict or disagreement at work.
One area that seems to raise its head in these situations is the need to hold on to some sort of power. To share power does not mean to give up power. You can liken it to sharing the light of a candle. When you light another person’s candle, your light doesn’t go out. You have more light for everyone. This enlightened approach to resolving conflict involves respect.
Respect is about recognising others as being different from you, not better or worse. The other person may well have a different set of values, beliefs and principles to you, and if you recognise that the other has different needs, you will appreciate the differences, rather than the things that are inherently ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.
Thinking ‘win-win’ in this scenario will help achieve a resolution rather than an escalation.
Here are some ways to head towards this mutually-agreeable solution…
If you appear to be against the other person and simply trying to win yourself, the other will become naturally defensive. Being open, receptive and willing to co-operate will lead to collaboration.
Try to create an atmosphere where everyone can be seen to be ‘gaining’ from the solution. It may be that you won’t get what you want until others see that they get what they want.
Looking for more help with managing conflict at work? Try this article:
Head of Training
So, you’ve made all the plans on how to deal with that difficult situation. You know exactly what you are going to say to that person. You are confident that you’ve considered all the options and you’ve covered all the bases when it comes to their reaction.
And then they go and do something you hadn’t planned for.
Challenging reactions sometimes do occur, and if you get caught up in those reactions, you may not end up with the desired result you had planned for. One such reaction you may encounter is when the person becomes defensive and thinks you are actually attacking them.
Trying to get your point across when they are being defensive is difficult. How do they show defensiveness? Interrupting you, counter-attacks, blame, loud voice and defensive body language are all signs of this method of dealing with difficult situations.
What can you do when faced with this style of reaction?
1) Try to avoid debating the issue. This fuels any disagreement that may exist, because the other person will always try to justify their position from their standpoint. You sound defensive as well. If you try to out-debate or out-argue them, tempers may flare and you get nowhere near a solution.
2) Don’t avoid the issue. If you give up the moment the other person goes defensive, it perpetuates their behavioural style and you end up in a worse position than before you started. You will never get agreement and the other person will accentuate this behaviour every time in the future, because they see it working.
3) Show you understand their position. Through active listening, you gain a clear understanding of their point of view, a position the other person would have wanted in the first place. Reflectively paraphrase your understanding of the message they have given you. As Steven Covey says in his ‘7 Habits’ book, you don’t have to agree with them, you just have to understand them.
4) Respond to clarify, not to counter-attack. Ensure at this point you clarify the meaning of what the other has said. You’re not countering here, you are simply trying to make sure you are totally clear on the meaning of what they have said.
5) Clarify your position. After you have listened and ensured you are clear on their position, you can describe your position, without making it appear blaming or judgemental. Stick to facts, not opinions. They can dispute opinions but facts can be backed up.
6) Be positive in your intentions. Recognise their defensiveness is often a sign of either a lack of personal responsibility or some form of insecurity on their behalf. By being positive in what your expectations are, you allow the other to see how being positive themselves may help them achieve a desirable outcome.
7) Work on a compatible solution together. You are trying to work out a resolution to the conflict, so move ahead as quickly as possible to attempting to work out a solution. Focus on what you can do, rather on what you can’t, on what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Take the other person forward with you to achieve that outcome you are both working towards.
Think through why the person is being defensive in the first place. That should enable you to determine the appropriate steps that will lessen the need for them to defend their position all the time.
Head of Training
There’s a saying in the north of England that goes something like, ‘There’s nought so queer as folk!’
With apologies to our northern readers, the saying is absolutely correct. If you’ve ever had to have dealings with human beings, the best way you can describe different people is…well…different!
As managers we meet a complex mixture of characteristics in others, and the best managers we come across are those that can adapt to the strange ways of other folk.
You may recognise aspects of the personalities or behaviour in your colleagues in the following ‘types’.
* Lazy Shirkers – The best way to approach slackers and skivers who don’t do their share of work is to use involvement and feedback. Explain that you are having challenges and that you need help or suggestions. Tell them how you see it, and then ask for the person’s help in actually solving it. They may then offer to take their share of responsibility.
* The Buck-Passers – These may do the barest minimum and try to shift responsibilities across to others, sometimes to give themselves an easy life, and sometimes to cover up some kind of deficiency in their abilities. You should get facts and information from job descriptions, team briefings and documents that define the responsibilities of the individual. Make sure you get their agreement to specific outlines of their obligations. Help them feel positive about taking on their responsibilities by encouraging their contributions and involvements.
* Pessimists and Negatives – If someone is consistently negative or pessimistic about things at work, don’t try to make them look at the positive side. These Kind of people will be able to justify every thought pattern they hold and they won’t want to be seen as wrong by having to ‘accentuate the positive’. Instead, calmly acknowledge there may be some truth in what the person is saying, and get their acknowledgement that things need to change, and what would they suggest would be an alternative. Encourage them to be constructive, not just positive. Discuss responsibilities for the changes that would have to be made. Concentrate on what could be done, instead of reasons why they can’t. Ask them to come up with solutions; this way, they have to be looking forward instead of viewing things through dark-coloured glasses.
* Competitive Types – There are some who feel they have to constantly prove themselves, take credit for things and generally have to compete in one-upmanship. That’s just the way they are, I’m afraid. It could be they lack the self-confidence to face reality for what it really is, and have to cover up their own deficiencies by raising their self-esteem through hot air. Resist the temptation to indulge in competing with them; instead, emphasise the need for teamwork and stress common goals that you all should be working towards. That way, they may start thinking about how to collaborate instead of compete.
Whoever you have to deal with at work, there will be times when you need to be flexible and adaptable in your approach. If you face some of the people listed above, try out some of the ideas and see if you can influence their behaviour. Who knows, you may have an impact!
Looking for more help when dealing with difficult people? Try this article:
Head of Training
Anger is a natural human reaction to a difficult situation. Humans use anger to convey a change in attitude and to signal others to modify their behavior or suffer the consequences, whether that consequence be in the form violence, loss of job, or some other punishment. Learn More
There’s something about conflict that makes even the best of managers want to run away and hide under a rock. Unfortunately, as a manager you have to take control of any situation within your workplace, whether positive or negative. You are in charge of identifying the situation, intervening, and facilitating mediation.
I have, however, learned from experience that becoming too involved in a situation does more harm than good. If you spend too much time trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong you eventually find yourself unfairly biased towards one side or the other and, suddenly, you are no longer able to make a fair decision. Here are a few things you should NOT do when attempting to mediate a conflict.
Do not pretend the conflict does not exist. Most conflicts do not really ever go away by themselves. As a matter of fact, if it appears a conflict has resolved itself you should keep a careful eye on the participants, become one will likely explode later as those tense feelings fester beneath the surface. Suck it up and deal with the situation.
Do not allow each participant to corner you individually. Each person would prefer to have you believe his side of the story is more important or more accurate. Allowing each person to meet with you separately only fosters this need. Unless there is fear of physical altercation, meet with all participants together and encourage them to share their views in a constructive manner.
Do not let those in conflict spread their negativity throughout the entire office. Everyone working within the general vicinity of those in conflict is going to be impacted by the stress, anxiety, and disruption caused by the conflict. Don’t let anyone involved discuss the conflict with anyone else. Try to keep the incident as isolated as possible in order to ensure it does not begin to impact the functionality of others within the workplace.
Conflict is almost guaranteed in today’s workplace, but if handled carefully and effectively you can nip it in the bud and turn it into a constructive experience. Not sure you or your fellow managers have what it takes? Consider additional training on dealing with conflict so that you can approach each day confident you are able to handle whatever life throws your way!