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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Why the Performance Review is Not the End All of Providing Feedback

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“Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. They know that the best way to forecast the future is to create it.”

~ Michael J. Gelb ~

Five months into his job, Jeremy was in his usual upbeat mood, ready to dive into client portfolios, when his manager walked up to his cubicle and said the six words most employees dread to hear: “We need to discuss your performance.”

Jeremy felt butterflies flying in his stomach. Was he not doing a good job? Had he made a serious blunder? His formal performance review was months away; why the sudden meeting? With many questions racing through his mind, Jeremy gingerly sat in front of his manager.

Jeremy’s manager, Ben, maintained a serious disposition. He was never too quick to laugh at jokes, but he was a man of ethics, intelligence, and good conduct—and he commanded respect.

Ben reviewed his notes and started by commending Jeremy on areas where he had performed well.  Jeremy felt more at ease. Ben then went on to talk about how in certain cases Jeremy had fallen short of expectations and provided hands-on positive feedback on how he could take steps to improve.

Ben drafted out a clear roadmap, an action plan, for Jeremy to follow.

At the end of meeting, Jeremy was enlightened and confused. He nervously asked, “Ben, did our performance reviews get expedited?” A rare smile spread across Ben’s face. “No,” he said. “You’ll still have a review at year-end. I find that constantly providing feedback helps in three ways. It keeps employees happy by helping them do a better job and reach their career goals faster, it helps the firm increase productivity levels on an ongoing basis, and it saves me time at the end of the year—all I need to do is recap.”

If you have employees under you, recognize the benefits of providing constant feedback. Here are ten steps you can take to provide feedback to your employees without waiting for the annual performance review:

  1. Assess on a regular basis.
  2. Provide continuous feedback.
  3. Identify solid performance and encourage it.
  4. Tackle performance problems as they happen.
  5.  Takes notes or maintain a file.
  6. Openly communicate.
  7. Summarize positive performance.
  8. Summarize areas that need improvement.
  9. Develop a clear plan of action for success and offer solutions.
  10. Don’t hold back in giving total support.

Feedback isn’t positive or negativeit’s just feedback. Consult with an executive coach to open the lines of communication with your people and boost performance.

Talkback: Do you dread filling out end of year performance reviews for your employees? Would you be open to constant feedback from your manager? Share your thoughts below.

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7 Habits of an Ineffective Manager

Ineffective Managers

“The productivity and competitive problems American manufactures face result from ineffective top management, petrified in place, unwilling to accept change, failing to provide vision and leadership.”

~Phillip Alspach ~

Not all leaders are managers, but all great managers are leaders. Great managers inspire those around them. They understand what it takes to succeed and they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They also have a vision for their company and work hard to create a positive atmosphere where everyone is motivated to contribute to a common goal.

While it’s always nice to work under someone who exhibits these qualities on a daily basis, chances are you’ll remember those managers who didn’t fit this mold. While no one chooses to be an ineffective manager, sometimes managers lose touch with how to successfully incorporate leadership into their management.

Ineffective managers typically share some negative traits. However, those behaviors don’t have to be permanent; with some corrective measures, bad management can be turned around.

  • Ineffective communication: The whole culture of a company can be shaped and crafted by a manager’s words, which means he or she better be a good communicator. When a manager is too focused on upper management tasks, communication with employees tends to suffer. This leaves employees guessing about the company’s objectives and, even worse, doubting the manager’s credentials and commitment to the job. Communication is the lifeblood of any company. Whether it’s in front of a crowd or one-on-one with an employee, a good manager recognizes the power of communication and works hard to hone this skill.
  • Showing favoritism: Giving too much attention to some people while ignoring others is a recipe for disaster. Those who are overlooked will feel resentment toward the ineffective manager, and the situation will have a negative impact on their work performance. A good manager understands that his or her presence can often serve as a motivator for every employee. Just a few minutes a day can help employees feel important and allow them to voice their concerns and share their thoughts about the job.
  • Making bad hires: Making poor hiring decisions can have a lasting effect on the company’s bottom line, forcing other workers to pick up the slack. No one can have a 100% success rate with new hires, but a good rule of thumb is to hire motivated people with an eagerness to learn. If a manager hires the wrong person, he or she needs to step up and fix the problem, which may mean severing the relationship and moving on. Every manager makes mistakes, but dealing with these mistakes sets the great ones apart as leaders.
  • Being overly authoritative: Managers are put in charge because they’ve earned the opportunity to make the company’s important decisions. But that power also brings much responsibility. Ruling with an iron fist can cause employees to become resentful and unproductive. Good managers try to remain as flexible as possible, giving employees the latitude to perform their job in their own way. Instead of using a management position as a means of exerting power, use it as an opportunity to understand that no two people are exactly alike.
  • Becoming arrogant: A corner office. A large salary with generous stock options. A private parking space with a nice shiny sports car. The perks of being put in a management role can be enough to make anyone become big-headed. As the boss, others might be afraid to point out your flaws and shortcomings, so managers need to be extra careful not to fall into this trap. A good manager realizes that staying humble is important when building relationships with employees.
  • Not acknowledging success: Praise improves morale and gives workers the motivation to strive to be more productive. Few things are more appreciated than a kind word from the person in charge. Too often, ineffective managers isolate themselves from employees and spend their time only with other upper management. Effective managers appreciate the hard work of their employees and make every effort to let them know when they’ve gone above and beyond. It’s a simple gesture that can have lasting effects and create a culture of good will.
  • Lack of company vision: Managers aren’t put in charge to keep the status quo. They are expected to be visionaries who can capitalize on the changing business climate. Managers who are overly complacent tend to stifle creativity, miss opportunities and lose market share to competitors. Companies need to remain nimble and innovative to stay relevant, while constantly adjusting the way they do business. A good manager recognizes this and encourages forward-thinking approaches to meet the demands of tomorrow.

Having a management role within a company has its rewards—and it also brings heavy responsibility. Great managers should also be great leaders and be able to step back and evaluate their performance to make sure they are doing their part to create a company culture that motivates, encourages and rewards employees who contribute to the bottom line.

This guest post was provided by Jessica Edmondson who contributes on Management Careers and Online Business Degrees for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc.

Talkback: Can you think of any other bad habits an ineffective manager might engage in? Share your thoughts below.