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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4 Ways to Develop Effective Working Relationships

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“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt ~

Paul is all about results. He doesn’t like small talk or discussing things on a personal level. He just wants to get his work done. When he interacts with people, he wants to hear only the bottom line action that is needed to complete the project. He doesn’t want to hear about how people are feeling. This feels ineffective. Building working relationships isn’t something he has ever needed to do until now. He just got a new job in which he is overseeing a staff of twenty people. The culture of his new company encourages building of relationships, connecting and caring.

Here are 4 ways that Paul can begin to immediately learn how to develop and build working relationships. He wants to be more effective in his role and recognizes the importance of growing in this area.

1. Be a reliable team member.

When you demonstrate your reliability, it builds others’ confidence in you. That makes you a person they want to seek out for advice, feedback, and collaboration. Stick to deadlines you set, or give advanced notice if you need more time. Follow through on the little things as well as the big things, from keeping the break room tidy to meeting project objectives.

2. Engage in active listening.

Active listening builds effective working relationships by showing colleagues you take them seriously. It also helps you more fully understand what they are saying. To listen actively, ask open-ended questions about what the other person is saying. When she finishes, paraphrase what she said to make sure you understand it. Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than on what you’re going to say next. Avoid interjecting your own opinion as the speaker explains her point of view.

3. Show empathy for others’ feelings.

Showing empathy goes hand-in-hand with active listening. Validating statements such as, “I’ve felt that way myself,” or “I can see why you feel that way,” help the speaker feel understood, even if you still have a different opinion about the situation. Feeling understood will lower the speaker’s defenses, so he can understand your perspective in turn.

4. Steer clear of gossip.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s often easier said than done. If gossip starts up in the break room, politely but firmly say you don’t want to participate in the conversation. In doing so, you’ll avoid damaging relationships and will show you have integrity. Making your preferences known, and directly address the workplace gossip that could be hurtful to others, may also help create a more professional workplace culture. Build a culture in which respect, integrity and empathy are the foundations to creating the most effective working relationships.

Developing effective relationships at work will create a more pleasant environment. And remember, these practices aren’t just for some relationships and not others—they’re for relationships with supervisors as well as people you supervise, for team members and folks you work with less directly.

Review the above list and select one habit you can begin applying this week. Take notes on how you do and the progress you make. I would love to hear how you do in implementing the idea you choose. Email Joel with follow-up questions about your results.

Talkback: Have you found these tips useful in your workplace? Do you have others you’d like to share? Post your ideas below!

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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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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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The Power of Gratitude in the Workplace

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If [thankfulness] were a drug it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”

~ Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy. ~

Client Malcom Asks: There’s such a grumpy mood in the office. Everyone seems so negative… and with all the news you can’t blame them. What’s one thing I can do to add some positive energy and get us all more upbeat? How can I turn my current job into my dream job.

Coach Joel Answers: If you’re you trying to change your attitude, and feel better both physically and mentally, I have a solution. It sounds simple, but hear me out.

Scientific studies back up what I’m about to tell you. The answer is gratitude.

First, I’m going to tell you what it does for you. Then I’ll tell you how to get it… and more importantly keep it.

You see, the things we focus on, enlarge. The more you… and the office… focus on negative things, the larger and more powerful they are. With that negativity comes increased stress and all the illnesses that accompany that.

  • Physical Benefits of Gratitude

When you start to fill your mind with positive things, you are happier and healthier. Amazingly, focusing on gratitude doesn’t just make you feel better, it actually makes things better. Your physical health, emotional and mental health, clarity of thought, fewer aches and pains, better sleep—all come with gratitude!

Gratitude actually changes the way your body works. It lowers cortisol and slows the inflammatory immune system. It can moderate blood pressure and blood sugar levels and adjust mood neurotransmitters. Duke University studies have measured the effects of gratitude in these areas.

Can you see the increase in workplace energy that would come as everyone felt better physically?

  • Emotional Benefits of Gratitude

But there are also emotional benefits. When people focus on gratitude they are happier and more willing to help others. It can translate into confidence. People feel more valued and appreciated. They see that they are moving toward success.

This change can make your office alive with possibilities and energy. Chances are you’ll feel more creative. And studies show gratitude increases feelings of cooperation and help build stronger teams.

Why does it work?

Again, that which you focus on gets stronger. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says that focusing on gratitude creates neural pathways in the brain that become superhighways to happiness and inner strength.

And when the brain changes, behaviors change. You take better care of yourself. Your stress level goes down. You stay healthy. You feel better. You have more energy to accomplish more things. You create a dynamic workplace that’s fun to work in.

How can I make it work for me?

The good news is that it’s easy to get started. Start looking for things to be grateful for. When you look, you’ll see them. Here are additional ways to bring gratitude into your life and the life of your office.

1. Hold yourself accountable. Keep a daily gratitude journal and commit to writing at least three things you’re grateful for each day. Every day. They don’t have to be big things. It might be a sunset, or getting the lights all green or doing well on a presentation.

2. Say thank you. And mean it. Show appreciation for all the small things people do for you at work. Thank the person who held the door open for you. Send a note of appreciation to the co-worker who helped you with a project. You feel good and you make someone else feel good.

3. Continually look for things to appreciate. Decide to tell one of your co-workers, your spouse, or friend something you appreciate about them every day. If you believe in a higher power, spent time sending appreciation that way.

4. Give thanks for what you have. Realize you have more than 9/10th of the rest of the world according to Forbes Better Life Index. You’re even better off than the richest 10% in France, Japan or Italy. When you find yourself dissatisfied or focusing on what you lack, stop and be grateful for what you have.

While it won’t happen overnight, you can expect to feel happier and more enthusiastic sooner than you might imagine as you consciously practice gratitude. The longer you focus on gratitude the more you will find health and happiness benefits.

You and your co-workers will create a more vibrant, energetic office as they join you in strengthening the gratitude pathways of the mind.

Tired of your office atmosphere and looking to feel better about it? Contact Joel for personal help to put gratitude to work in your life and office.

Talkback: What gratitude tips have you tried and seen the impact and value it’s had on your life. Please share examples below. Thanks so much.

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