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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Feel Unappreciated?
Improve Your Working Relationships

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“Accomplishing the impossible only means that the boss will add it to your regular duties.”

~ Doug Larson ~

Client Dave Asks: I just don’t get it! I know I’m doing good work, but nobody seems to notice. I put in the hours, I bring in the clients, I get the job done. My colleagues seem to like me, so I don’t think it’s about improving my working relationships. But I’m sick of feeling underappreciated. It just seems like everything is a drag right now.

Coach Joel Answers: Everyone has dry spells, where it seems like you are unappreciated. The key is to use this time as an opportunity to “kick it up a notch,” as the saying goes. Working relationships can always be improved. For starters, maybe you’re not relating to the right people. Here are three action steps I’d recommend you take right away:

  • Hitch your wagon to a star
  • Give away gold stars
  • Act like a superstar

1. Hitch your wagon to a star. If you want to be noticed and perceived as being a high performer, a leader in the company, then start hanging out with people who are. If you want to be a great leader, do what leaders do. Look around you and see who’s getting the accolades, the plum assignments. Notice what they do, how they act in meetings, how they communicate with clients. Then reach out. Ask one or two of them to coffee and ask for their advice. Then take it, and say “thank you.” When you start acting on their recommendations, they will notice and begin to mention your accomplishments to others.

2. Give away gold stars. It probably goes back to nursery school, but we all love getting gold stars. If you want to collect a few stars of your own, start giving them to others first. If you wish people would be freer with praise and appreciation, make sure you’re giving it out yourself. When you show your gratitude for what your colleagues are doing, they are much more likely to notice what you’re doing and the gold stars will follow. Not only will you get the praise you deserve, you’ll improve your working relationships in the bargain.

3. Act as if you’re a star. Your current feeling like everything is a drag is undoubtedly affecting not only how you perceive yourself, but how others perceive you. Start by giving yourself credit for what you do. Then share your accomplishments. If you’ve solved a sticky problem, ask your boss for a few minutes at the next team meeting to discuss how you did it. If you’ve brought in a new client, talk about your communication strategy. You’re not bragging, by the way, you’re sharing your ideas

If you implement these three steps, I guarantee it won’t be long before you’ll be seen in a starring role.

Are you getting the gold stars you deserve? If you’re not, email Joel today and get his input on how you can turn things around.

Talkback: Have you moved from one of the crowd into a starring role? Share your improvement strategy here.

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Get Ahead by Speaking Up at Work

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“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

~ Mark Twain ~

Client Mark asks: I’m mostly quiet at meetings. I’ve always thought that if I just do my work, it would speak for itself. But it’s not working. I think I need to speak up more. But what is the best way get my opinion out there?

Coach Joel Answers: Mark, you need to trust that your opinion matters. No one sees the world through your perspective. No one else has your unique blend of experience, knowledge, understanding and skills. In order for your group and organization to perform their best, they need varied input. They need your input.

When you share your opinion you stand out and become recognized. As you do so, you create value and that impact sets you up for promotions.

If you have been a worker-bee, or shy and deflected attention, it may be hard to take the risk of sharing your opinion. But doing so will increase your confidence and help you be more widely known.

Let’s talk about the when, where, why, and how to make your opinion take you to the leadership position you desire.

  • When to share: Good leaders listen first. Take time to process what has already been said. Then see where you can add value. You may want to start sharing your opinion in smaller groups. But ultimately you want your manager’s bosses, and a wide range of people to hear your opinions.
  • What to share: Take an honest look at your level of expertise and your strengths. You really have a lot to offer. Think about what you can add that will move the conversation forward. Of course you don’t want to duplicate what someone else just said. Don’t waste time adding your me-too experiences or examples.

Look for ways your opinions can provide solutions, build consensus, or shed new light on concerns. These kinds of opinions will show others your talents and skills. They will demonstrate what you offer the organization. When others hear your opinions, they can recognize your value, appreciate your contribution to the company, and leverage your talents.

How to Share. Share with confidence. Yes, it feels risky, but it’s important to step up and speak out. Be sure you do not apologize or minimize your contribution. “I just… um… thought…ah… perhaps…” In the beginning you may want to plan out what you’ll say.

  • Share your opinion in in writing. You can take the time to think through how best to express your thoughts. You can write an article, send an email, or a memo. The advantage of written opinions is that it’s easier to share them up and across the leadership chain.
  • Write out what you want to say at meetings. Prior planning can reduce your fear, build your confidence and help you express your thoughts more clearly.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings. You may find it easier to share your opinion with one person at a time at the beginning. Then you can move on to small groups and finally to large meetings.

Why share? Leadership and visibility require each other. If you want to advance, you have to be visible. When you speak out and share your opinions, people will see you as someone with power, influence, authority, and leadership. If you stay silent, you won’t be noticed, and your career will stall out. When you actively add to the conversation with insightful, thought-provoking opinions you stand out. You increase your value to the company.

Is it time for you to speak out and have your opinions heard and respected? Contact Joel and find out how you can maximize your potential.

Talkback: Let me know about a time you spoke up and it changed your career path.

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3 Ways to Overcome Self-Defeating Behaviors

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“If you don’t know what your barriers are, it’s impossible to figure out how to tear them down.”

~ John Manning ~

Client Janice Asks: I feel like I’ve reached the end of the line with my career. “There’s no room on the ladder above me at the company where I work now. All the C-level managers are firmly entrenched in their positions. If I try to find another job, someone is bound to find out, and that will make me look disloyal. I’ve got two advanced degrees and I’m really overqualified for most jobs in my field anyway. I’m already older than most of my peers. And nobody new would hire me when they can get a 20-something fresh out of college for half my salary. I’m doomed!

Coach Joel Answers: I can see why you’re frustrated, Janice. What I’m also seeing, however, is that a lot of the roadblocks you’re seeing exist in your mind. They are not “out there”—they are inside you. And once you know what those roadblocks or barriers are, you can remove them and replace them with something else. Let’s take a look at some key barriers we all have and where they come from. It’s all about your internal truths, the beliefs you have about yourself and your situation. Here are 3 ways to overcome self-defeating behaviors.

  • What is the truth about you?
  • What is the truth about the people around you?
  • What is the truth about your business environment?

1. What is the truth about you? I hear you saying that you’re stuck. You have no place to go. You’re overqualified, and maybe even overpaid in today’s economy. You know what all those beliefs are doing? They are causing you to shut down, to ignore or discount the possibilities that are out there. Since changing companies or careers may be more of a long-term option, how about shifting some of those barriers into benefits? You say you have two degrees—that’s great. You can use that education and those skills to challenge yourself on the job. Think about the biggest problem or challenge your company or department is facing right now. Expenses out of control? Come up with a cost-reduction plan. Clients leaving the firm? Create a retention strategy. Be on the lookout for ideas that will increase your visibility with those C-levels.

2. What is the truth about the people around you? Those C-level managers who are blocking the next rung on your ladder may stay right where they are for the foreseeable future. Why not use them to your advantage? Choose one whose performance or personality you admire and ask him for advice. If it’s appropriate within your company’s structure, ask him to become an ongoing mentor. Become your boss’s new best friend. Find out what her challenges are and volunteer to take one of them off her plate. If you come up with some new strategies as we discussed earlier, ask her advice about your ideas. You don’t need to feel inadequate around these people. You’re equal to many of them in both education and talent.

3. What is the truth about your business environment? Step back and get the big picture. First, where is your company headed? If you have a mission statement, understand it and place yourself in that picture to see where you fit. Do the company’s goals align with your personal career objectives? Start to get a vision for the future. If you are in an industry that’s in decline or has fallen on hard times, you may want to develop a plan for repurposing your skills to transition into a more growth-oriented environment. Understand your competition in the job market. Yes, 20-somethings are probably cheaper, but many companies value the experience and work ethic that improves with age. Start making a list of the skills and qualities that you have to offer. Look at that list frequently and add to it often. Reading it will give you a new degree of satisfaction in your current job, and it will provide you with some much-needed self-confidence if you do decide to put yourself on the market at some later time.

Do you have self-defeating barriers in your head? Email Joel today and discuss how you can overcome these limiting behaviors.

Talkback: How have you overcome these behaviors? What self-defeating thoughts did you remove? What did you replace them with? Share your story here.

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