Category Archives: Conflict management

What’s This Conflict REALLY About?

If you’ve ever wondered why your brilliant solutions to address a problem weren’t  met with happiness and acceptance, it’s probably because you didn’t understand the real issue and were trying to fix the wrong thing.

Conflict situations are complex.  They aren’t always about what they seem to be about. People are trying to satisfy different needs and unless you understand what their needs are, your solutions will be mis-matched and ineffective.  William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker describe this dynamic well in their CRIP model.

1. Content – What do we want?
The most apparent need or goal in a conflict is the thing that is most apparent.  It is the subject of the conflict, the ‘what’ we’re fighting about.  People either want different things (what to watch on TV) or are competing for the same thing (two managers needing the 1 ‘headcount’ or position that has been budgeted for).

2. Relational – Who are we to each other?
Relational needs in a conflict situation define what the parties need from each other, either how you want to be treated (e.g. respect, appreciation, cooperation etc.) or how interdependent we should/will be (‘Are you staying or leaving?” or ‘This is none of your business’.)

3.  Identity – Who Am I in this interaction?
Identity goals arise when a person is striving to maintain or protect his or her self-identity.  Sometimes as conflicts escalate, peoples’ need to save face or be right and win ‘just because’ become more important. When self-esteem is at stake, it’s hard to be flexible.

4. Process – What communication process will be used to solve this problem?
Will the majority rule or consensus?  Will the boss/father/wife decide?  Will we take a secret vote?  People have varying levels of comfort with different levels of sharing of the decision-making process.  Men and women may be more or less inclined to use participatory decision-making.  Some cultures are more comfortable with authority-driven decisions than others.

In any conflict, some or all of these needs exist and it’s important to recognize their existence and relative priority in the situation.  You could be ostensibly arguing over the content of an issue, but the history of the relationship is clouding your ability to reach a real resolution.

What does this model illuminate for you?

The Costs of Conflict

I read a lot about conflict and study business communications regularly.  I came across a couple of studies about the time and resource drain that conflict imposes on organizations.

85% of employees report being involved in conflict at work. What does this mean to you? Let’s find out.

Let’s be conservative and assume only 1 hour a week is being lost to situations where conflict has slowed work down.

1.  How many workers does your firm employ?     _____________
2.  Multiply line 1 by .025  (1 hr in a 40hr week)   _____________
3.  Multiply line 2 by 50 (weeks in a year*)             _____________
* no conflict during vacations (Ha!)
4.  Multiply line 3 by their average annual salary   _____________
5.  YIKES!!! The money you could be saving            _____________

It’s worse than that.

Managers spend 40 – 60% of their time navigating and dissolving conflicts in their organizations.

What does this mean to your bottom line?

1.  How many managers does your firm employ?  _____________
2.  Multiply line 1 by 2080 (# work hours/year)     _____________
3.  Multiply line 2 by 50% (.5)                                    _____________
4.  Multiply line 3 by their average annual salary   _____________
5.  YIKES!!! The money you could be saving            _____________

Conflict is a controllable cost.  It takes time to assess, time to disentangle and and time to resolve.  It requires that the parties are willing to come up with a solution that works.  Often times, much healing needs to occur before productive conversations can even begin.

Many people feel helpless and even hopeless about their ability to proactively resolve strong conflict.  There are several ‘interventions’ available to heal a broken situation.  Here is just one.

In any conflict there might be four aspects of the conflict at play:
1. Content – the ‘what’ of the conflict
2. Relationship – the ‘who’ of the conflict and their history together
3. Self-perception – the ‘ego’ of each party
4. Process – the ‘way’ we’ll solve this conflict.

Depending on the people and issue, one or two of these four might play a bigger role.  It’s important to clarify what the conflict is really about before trying to solve it.  Fixing a process issue when the relationship is damaged, won’t work until the relationship issues are addressed. Similarly, coming up with an agreeable solution when the process is still broken will just create more conflict in the future.

Next time you’re tempted to sweep an issue under the proverbial rug, take a minute to estimate the real potential cost of avoiding it.  Then engage the troops in dissolving the dispute.

Outside help may be necessary to navigate troubled waters, especially if you’re swimming in them yourself.  Unless the conflict completely insignificant, don’t let it fester for long.  Even seemingly innocuous issues can escalate until their are out of control and your profits are languishing with no hard cost explanation to justify poor results.

How to Give Feedback When You’d Really Rather Not

I spent years in corporate America helping people who were frustrated with other people find the right words to express their disappointment, resentment or anger.

People either explode with rage or sit and simmer until they reach the boiling point or develop ulcers.

How do you get your point across without killing someone or sabotaging your own self esteem and power?

You may need to assess your beliefs about conflict. It’s bad.  It never turns out right.  They’ll hate me. etc.  Your beliefs dictate how you handle feedback.  You must believe that if you handle it well, that it will be well received.

The key is to release your thoughts in the way that steam is released from a pressure cooker…a little at at time.  Don’t wait until you can’t stand it anymore.  It may be OK to let an incident or two go by (if they aren’t major). But the moment you see anunwanted pattern developing, it’s time to address it.

Clearly, there is no guarantee your message will be heard in the way you want, but there are things you can do to increase the chances of that.

1. Make sure the person has at least a few minutes to have a conversation with you. Something as simple as a polite “Do you have a few minutes?” is a good start.

2.  If you’re reluctant to start the conversation, identify the source of your reluctance and start the conversation there.  “I have something to talk with you about but I’m afraid… “I’ll hurt your feelings” or “you’ll be angry” or “this will have a negative impact on our relationship” or what ever your concern is.

3. Talk about the other person’s actions and behavior, not your assessment or judgment about them. Labels like ‘neurotic’, ‘controlling’, ‘irresponsible’ or ‘passive-aggressive’ are incendiary and will almost certainly raise the hackles of the receiver and start a fight.

4.  Get clear yourself about specifically you need from the person that you aren’t getting.  State in as specific behavioral terms as  you can muster what you expect or want to see instead.  “I need to get a response within 48 hours of contacting you” or “I need you to put your files/clothes/equipment away as soon as you’re done with them”.

5.  Thank them for listening and ask if there is anything you can do to help them fulfill the request you’ve just made.  You might actually be part of the problem. (Hmm, imagine that.)

If you practice talking about observable behavior rather than someone’s intentions, motives or character, you’ll be more successful and build confidence in your ability deal with difficult situations.

5 Fatal Flaws that Can Halt Your Career ‘Flow’

This week has been filled with serendipity.  Yesterday, I spoke with a prospect who found me on the internet and created a new friendship. I invited her to join me last night at an incredibly fun ‘girlfriend’ clothing swap party where we all ‘shopped’ with discarded but wonderful ‘treasurers’ from each others closets.

I ended up having conversations with some of the women about a business opportunity with someone else they knew and that woman called me first thing this morning!  We had been scheduled to talk next month, but her business timeline has been escalated and she needed to talk with me sooner.  It’s really exciting!

While I’m all about driving for results, sometimes I have to remember to just ‘go with the flow’.

When we go with the flow and ‘allow’ (rather than force) life to unfold, amazing things happen.

There are however, some things we do that stop the upward flow of our careers.  Make sure you’re not doing these.

1. Complaining about your boss or colleagues at work
First of all, complaining about anything to anyone who isn’t in a position to fix the issue is a huge waste of time and energy. Key #4 in my book, 6 Keys to Dissolving Disputes: When ‘Off with their Heads!’ Won’t Work is “Convert complaints to requests”. This means if you have an issue about something, rather than whine about what you don’t want, figure out specifically what you do need that would correct the situation.  Then identify the person who has enough power to grant your request. Framing it terms of how giving you what you want will help them will dramatically increase the odds that they say ‘yes’.

If the complaints are about your boss or co-workers, talk directly to them!  Gossiping behind their back might give you some temporary relief and even help you ‘bond’ with other people who are similarly suffering, but in the long-run, it won’t do a darn bit of good.  And in fact can completely backfire on you.  You don’t always know who’s friends with whom and how quickly word could get back to the person you’re complaining about.  Best to nip it at the bud and talk with them directly before they hear about how you lambasted them with someone who didn’t need to know you even had an issue with them.

Offer the person constructive feedback (there’ll be an article about this in the future) and ask directly for what you want.

2. Blaming other people or circumstances for your short-comings
Nothing makes you look like a loser more than not taking responsibility for your actions.  People who are unable to make things happen because someone else or something else got in their way have completely abdicated their power.  None of us is perfect.  We’re not equally skilled in every behavior, talent, competency.  Know what you’re good and and what you’re not.  Be honest with people about where you shine and where you don’t.

Flip Wilson’s comment (for those of you old enough to remember) “The devil made me do it” was funny but at work, it just makes you pathetic.  Don’t be a victim of anything.

3. Covering up your mistakes
Worse than blaming others is hiding and lying about mistakes when you make them.  It takes courage to admit that you messed up, especially if you messed up in a big way.  You might be afraid that if you own up to your mistakes, you’ll suffer severe consequences, get reprimanded, maybe even fired. And that is a risk you run.

However recognize that it’s likely that your mistake will be discovered anyway.  It will be so much better if you bring it to the table yourself rather than sweeping it under the rug.  Fall on your own sword rather than having one thrust in you by the person who discovered the gaffaw.  Honesty about your big blunder may actually save your job not lose it.

4. Underestimating your talents
Some people are good at promoting their skills, abilities and results.  Some are actually obnoxious about it. So I’m not suggesting you be one of the obnoxious ones but I am encouraging you to make sure you’re getting proper credit when you do something good.

Women are especially humble about this and need to get over it.  While you may think that if something comes easily to you (whether man or woman) that it must be unimportant or easy for everyone, you’re dead wrong.  Recognize and appreciate your gifts.  Make sure you’re in a job, company and culture that appreciates them as well.  If they don’t, they don’t deserve you.  Find another job.

Keep a list of the things you’ve accomplished along with the positive impact those accomplishments created for your department, boss, company, community and industry. Quantify the impact if you can (increased sales, decreased processing time, increase in pipeline/prospects, etc.)  Allow yourself to let in the contribution you make to the world around you.  Remind your boss at review time just how valuable you are by providing your list of this year’s big wins.

5. Reminding your boss you’re smarter than they are.
While smart bosses do hire people that are smarter than them, few of us want to be reminded of that on a regular basis.  While it’s important to communicate your value to your boss, you must do so in a supportive, not holier-than-thou way.

If your boss asks you for something and you have a better idea, tell him or her you’ll get it for them right away.  Say ‘oh by the way, what if we did it this way?’ and then let them decide. They are the boss.

Works the same for clients.  Several years ago, when I was working in HR, an internal client asked me for some information.  I thought I had a better way to present it and so gave it to her in that ‘better’ form.  She didn’t say anything to me but later went to my boss to ask for what she had originally wanted.  My boss suggested that in the future when I have a better idea, to give the client what they ask for and also give them my better idea.  It gives them a choice and leaves them feeling valued while still showing your value.

In a recent call during my Leaders without Limits group coaching program, almost all of the participants were dealing with bosses that were in some way, paralyzed and not taking the necessary action to move their organizations forward.

My suggestions to each of them were to:

  • pledge to the boss their complete support and commitment to making the boss look good,
  • engage the boss by asking what’s most important to them,
  • ask what the boss’s biggest concerns are about the project and
  • find out what the boss would most like to see happen.

Then go forth and make it happen.

If you avoid these career limiting moves I’ve identfied here, your career will soar and you will not end up looking like a…donkey.