Workplace Conflict: Blessing or Curse?

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“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”

~ Thomas Paine ~

Client Martina Asks: Lately, my office has become Conflict Central. We can’t have a meeting without someone leaving in a snit because his or her idea was rejected. There’s a lot of door slamming and loud voices. People who used to socialize together after work aren’t even speaking. Worst of all, our productivity is in the tank. As a team leader, I feel some responsibility to do something about this. I’d like to be the person who turns the team around and gets our projects back on track. What do you suggest?

Coach Joel Answers: Conflict has become a way of life in many organizations. In fact, a whole industry has been created around training people how to resolve conflicts. Just Google “conflict resolution” and you’ll see what I mean. But a lot of these tried-and-true, theoretical methods are not particularly effective. Some people thrive on conflict and love to create more of it. If you have one or more of those on your team, your job is going to be challenging.

How about this? Instead of seeing conflict as a negative, a big problem to be solved—how about looking at conflict as an opportunity to become even better than you are?

Martina seemed unconvinced but willing to go along—for a while anyway. Here’s the outline of actions steps that Joel and Martina put together.

  • Step 1: Develop an internal support team. Gather around a table with a few team members who you know are not happy with the current situation and would welcome an opportunity to be part of turning it around. Look for people who are open to using conflict as an opportunity to get better, not just a problem to be solved.
  • Step 2: Clearly define the problem. The problem is NOT that Joe’s a jerk who won’t go along with anything; or the work load is too heavy; or the boss’s expectations are unrealistic. Just as married people seldom fight about the budget, work teams seldom fight about the work load. What they both want is control. The problem is that nobody yet is able to see conflict as an opportunity and share control to build a better organization. It’s your job to show them how.
  • Step 3: Make your adversaries part of the solution. Not everyone will see the possibilities. However, you must, first of all, respect those whose opinions differ from yours. Invite them in. Give those who are willing to work together a seat at the table and get everything out in the open. During this kind of communication, the key ground rule is “no argument.” The key tool is listening and letting the other person know he or she has been heard. My book about Difficult Conversations provides a lot more detail about how this technique can work for you.
  • Step 4: Capture ideas and pick the top 5. Every person at the table will have ideas. Some will have merit; some will not. Make sure that your brainstorming session doesn’t deteriorate into an “us against them” free-for-all. Choose ideas from all different perspectives, ideas that are positive and will forward the action, not short-term solutions that will put a band-aid on an open wound.
  • Step 5: Team up to move up. Take your top five ideas and let each team member choose to be part of an implementation team that puts one of those into action. Develop a timeline for completion and an interim schedule for progress reports.

In short, the secret to conflict resolution is not “Can’t we all just get along?” The secret is giving people a project to work on where their ideas and creativity are respected and where they can see the results of their efforts.

What’s the biggest conflict in your workplace right now? Start making a list of steps you can take personally to turn this conflict into a big step forward for your team and for the company. Joel has helped many of his clients do exactly that. Email him today to discuss possibilities.

Talkback: Have you successfully turned a conflict into an opportunity? We’d love to hear how you did it. Share your experience below.

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3 Self-Defeating Habits to Break Right Now

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“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.”

~ Abigail Van Buren ~

Client Mitch Asks: I’ve just finished getting the results of my annual 360 review, and boy, am I discouraged! You would not believe the stuff people said about me. They say I’m causing the team to miss deadlines because I put things off until the last minute. The truth is, I work a lot better under pressure. The stress just makes me kick it up a notch and that’s when I get really creative. And around here, deadlines are missed all the time. Why am I to blame? Right now, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop—there’s a pink slip in my future. I’m sure of that. If everybody says about me is true, who would want me around anyway? Guess I’d better polish up the old resume.

Coach Joel Answers: Let’s take a step back here. I know performance reviews can be pretty upsetting, but they can also present an opportunity. Here’s another point of view you might consider. From what I heard you saying, I can pinpoint at least three self-defeating habits that are probably what’s behind all that unfavorable feedback. Here’s my short list of damaging habits. If you can break these, I’m sure you can turn things around.

  • Procrastinating
  • Rationalizing
  • Catastrophic thinking

1. Procrastinating. You say you work best under pressure, but what is that pressure really costing you in terms of stress? Not to mention the poor image you’re projecting to your co-workers. Here’s the nugget for breaking any habit: you can’t just say, “I’m going to stop procrastinating.” You need to replace that negative habit with a positive one. For the next month, try starting every day at work by doing your hardest task. If it’s calling clients, do that first. If there’s a major project on the horizon, create an outline of what you need to do and take the first step. Once you’ve made a start, the rest of your day or your project will fall into place more easily.

2. Rationalizing is a way of excusing ineffective behavior. Actually, it’s a lie you tell yourself in order to preserve your self-esteem and give yourself permission to keep doing what you’re doing. You say you’re more creative under pressure. How can you replace that thought? Give yourself permission to be creative when you’re not under pressure, when you can actually enjoy the process. Let’s say you have a major client presentation coming up and you need a PowerPoint deck. Slow down. Take a relaxed half an hour to experiment with color palettes and designs. Do an Internet search for videos you could import. Your end result will be far more creative than something you throw together at the last minute, without time to visualize the end result or its effect on your client. And you won’t have to make excuses for missing deadlines or turning in a mediocre project.

3. Catastrophic thinking. You say there’s a pink slip in your future? That’s carrying one negative review to the extreme. Think about the language you’re using when you talk to yourself about this issue. Do you hear extreme words like, “never,” or “always?”

“Nobody wants me around. I’ll never find another job. I always get blamed when thing go wrong.” Right now, your team is seeing you in a negative light. If you want to build more positive relationships, you need to take action.

Instead of buying into your destructive self-talk, make a list of ten things you do really well, ten successes you’ve had in this job or in previous jobs. Write these down and re-read the list every time you catch yourself going into catastrophic mode.

And last but not least, commit to this change strategy by sharing it with your boss. Let her know that your 360 review was a great wake-up call because it showed you some changes you need to make. Tell her what those changes are and what you plan to do about them. Set up an appointment to review your progress in 30 days. Nothing will hold you accountable like sharing your commitment with someone else. There’s real power in public declaration.

Do you have some self-defeating habits you need to turn around? Email Joel today for some suggestions.

Talkback: Have you successfully replaced a bad habit with a good one? Share your turnaround strategy here.

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8 Skills for Mastering Conflict Resolution

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“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

~ Margaret Heffernan ~

Anna has always been a competent and conscientious employee, but she couldn’t figure out how to really shine as a leader. Her mentor suggested she evaluate what skills her office needed most and work to fill the gap. Anna realized that office conflicts were wasting valuable time and energy. Coworkers were avoiding conflict at all costs until it came to a head, and several of her coworkers had left the company because of the negative atmosphere. By honing her conflict resolution skills, Anna knew she could really get noticed.

Conflict resolution is an invaluable skill that will make you shine as an employee, because few people do it really well. Helping conflicts to happen in healthy ways will boost ingenuity, foster harmonious relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Whether you’re mediating conflicts for others or resolving a conflict with a coworker or even with your boss, these tips will help you to master this skill.

1. Predict conflicts.

Conflicts don’t always have to catch you off guard. Look for personality clashes and underlying tensions that could surface during a challenging moment. That will help you to circumvent them when possible by curbing bad behavior before it gets out of hand, and to anticipate how to handle tense situations.

2. Let both parties cool down.

Don’t attempt to find a solution while everyone is boiling mad. Give people time and space to cool down and reflect on the situation. Let them know you’ll help resolve the conflict after everyone has had some breathing room.

3. Articulate the conflict.

Clearly state what is happening and why it’s important to solve the conflict. Ask all parties if they agree with your summary of the situation. You can’t solve the problem until you know what problem you’re solving.

4. Get to the root of the issue.

Personality clashes and past disagreements that flare up might cloud the issue. If you’ve taken the time to predict what types of conflicts might arise in your workplace, you’ll have a better idea of their root causes. Ask yourself if you’ve seen a pattern at play.

5. Make sure both parties feel heard.

Schedule one-on-one time with each party, if possible, to make sure they’ve each had the chance to fully air their concerns and feel heard. If you’re involved in the conflict, reach out to a colleague who can help you understand the other party’s perspective, and ask your advocate for advice if need be.

6. Foster collaboration or compromise.

Solutions that involve collaboration or compromise are the most productive, because they ensure everyone’s needs are met. They’re far more productive than having one party accommodate the other’s wishes completely, or having both parties compete head-on to show their solution is best. While negotiating the solution, consider whether one party is more domineering or vocal than the other. If so, work to draw the more reserved party out to make sure no one’s needs are being overlooked.

7. Communicate expectations with everyone.

Communicating expectations clearly will help avoid future conflicts. Clear communication also makes people feel valued. If the office already has formal protocol related to the issue at hand, communicate it to the entire office. If not, assemble a small team of people to develop a protocol that coworkers can look to in the future.

8. Solicit solutions

Ask for potential solutions from all parties involved in the conflict. If other coworkers have investment in the issue at hand, ask the whole office for solutions. When the people in conflict see its resolution as a joint effort, they’ll be more likely to feel acknowledged, supported, and treated fairly.

Working to build positive relationships with coworkers on a daily basis will help them trust your methods of conflict resolution. Making this effort will poise you to take leadership in the conflict resolution process. Like Anna, as you hone stellar conflict resolution skills, your boss will come to see you as a leader in your workplace.

Anne purchased my book Difficult Conversations which provided her with the practical tactics for some of the crucial communication she was prepared to begin having.

For the next week, take notice of any tension brewing in your office and predict what conflicts might arise from it. Take action each day to address a potential area of conflict, such as asking a coworker what might alleviate her frustrations with fellow team members. Take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and email Joel for feedback.

Talkback: Have conflict resolution skills gotten you noticed? Have you seen them benefit your coworkers? Share your experiences here.

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Career Advancement – 5 Key ways to Stand Out

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence.”

~ Pearl Buck ~

Client Maria Asks: I’ve been with my company for six years now, and I’ve gone as far as I can go. It’s time to move to a bigger playing field. How can I really set myself apart from the crowd? I know I’m good at what I do, but how do I convey that without overselling myself or looking like an egomaniac?

Coach Joel Answers: You’re smart to be planning ahead in this situation, and you’re in the perfect spot for a career advancement move. There’s a lot you can do to prepare, but I think there are 5 key things that will really make you stand out and gain career advancement.

  • Become a master communicator
  • Make critical thinking a way of life
  • Make their goals your goals
  • Be someone special
  • Tell a good story

Here’s how each of these strategies will work to advance your career. These are not just things to do—they are who you are in the eyes of your next boss and the new job success you want to create.

1. Become a master communicator. Technical knowledge is important. But the #1 skill that employers are looking for today is communication–people who can write and speak impeccably. This means that every bit of written communication between you and any future employer needs to be letter-perfect. This includes emails and texts, not just your resume. It also applies to your profile on LinkedIn and other social media sites. Speaking well is equally important. If you tend to freeze up in presentations or stutter in group meetings, join Toastmasters or take a public speaking seminar.

2. Make critical thinking a way of life. Your future employer values people who can think on their feet. Problem-solving is important, but problem-avoidance is even better. Learn to think ahead about the potential outcomes of your strategies. Never underestimate the Law of Unintended Consequences—the possibility that your actions may produce unexpected results. Fire prevention beats firefighting every time.

3. Make their goals your goals. Working for a company you’re proud to be with is the best of all possible worlds. As you research potential employers, go after only those whose mission and vision you can totally support. Once you’re on the job, that same mindset applies to your boss’s personal goals. She wants to open two new sales territories? You can do that. He wants to be the premier provider of services in your industry? You want the same thing. Align your vision with theirs and you’re both winners.

4. Be someone special. Have a signature skill that enhances your brand, something that you are confident you can do better than almost anyone else. What principles did learn about excellence and winning that you’ll be using on the job? Did you overcome a major personal challenge to get where you are today? Now you can use that experience to meet any challenge your employer throws at you. Which leads us directly to #5:

5. Tell a good story. Every prospective employer has heard the laundry list of the qualities that make a good employee: teamwork, integrity, creativity, dedication. Instead of reciting the expected list, tell a story. Illustrate something you have done that shows your creativity. Talk about leading a team and the results you produced. Your next boss will remember the story, even if he or she forgets the words that started it.

Remember, none of this is done out of ego or overconfidence. Or in the immortal words of Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” And I’m sure you can do it!

Are you looking for the next big thing? Ready for a dramatic career advancement move? Email Joel today for his suggestions.

Talkback: Have you successfully changed jobs or careers recently? Share your success story here.

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Seven Things to NEVER Say to Your Boss

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“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

~ Colin Powell ~

Increase your personal development and career potential as you master these areas of communication with your boss.  Great communication demonstrates growth and maturity.  Poor communication sabotages your advancement.  Eliminate these words and the values they illustrate and see your influence and recognition rise.

1. “It was nothing.” “No big deal.”  When you can’t accept a compliment, you show a lack of confidence in yourself.  After all, if you don’t think it’s a good job, why should anyone else? When your boss compliments you, don’t denigrate yourself.  He is praising your skills and accomplishments.  Own them.  Sometimes people down-play their achievements due to a false sense of modesty.  If you want to move your career forward, accept these compliments with graciousness.   Say “Thank you.”  Smile.

2. “Well, I emailed you about that a week ago.”  This statement tells your boss you think that once it’s off your desk, it’s no longer your responsibility.  It also suggests criticism of her for not finding it and reading it.  Taking personal responsibility for your career development means you follow up.  If you need feedback, send a gentle reminder.  Remember, email is not the only form of communication.  Pick up the phone and call… or walk down the hall and talk to the boss in person.  It takes more effort, but this stretch shows you take responsibility.

3. Sigh. You might deny it, but both you and your boss know that sighs can say 50 different things… most of them not good.  It might mean frustration, a feeling of over work, disgust that you’re forced to work with someone, do something, be somewhere you don’t like. Because you’re focused on improving yourself, watch how many times you sigh and ask yourself what caused them.  If necessary, use positive communication to express your thoughts.

4. “Not my problem.”  People looking to improve their careers can’t be perceived as lazy or uncaring. In reality, if it’s your boss’s problem, it becomes your problem.  Your job description includes a range of flexibility and your willingness to go the extra mile will go a long way in impressing the boss.

5. “That’s not the way we did it last time.” Traditions and ruts may indicate to your superiors that you’re not ready to take on different or innovative tasks.  In this changing economy, companies seek new ways to improve the bottom line.  They look for employees willing to come on board with that.

6. “I just bought a Ferrari.” Your boss is not all that concerned with your personal life.  Nor is he likely to be impressed if you have something bigger and better than he does. Keep personal things out of the office.  When conversations focus on business tasks, you’re more likely to be perceived as advancement material.

7. “Is this the best they could do?”  Whether it’s the new copy machine or the holiday bonus, criticizing the company’s policy or decisions will not make a good impression.  You might be viewed as feeling entitled.  If you can’t influence a decision or solve a problem, save your breath and focus on what will help you add value to the company…and your career.

Good communications require personal development and increasing maturity.  Think before you speak.  Make sure what you say reflects your best values and you will increase your chances to grow your career to greater heights.

Joel Garfinkle helps up and coming leaders understand specific steps to increase their personal development and advance their career potential.  . Contact Joel now to learn how he can move your career forward.  Or check out his newest book Getting Ahead

Talkback: What phrases have you heard that are career killers?  Have you seen the results of bad communication, or do you have an example of masterful communication?

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