Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Curious about Conflict?


Since we’ve written two books about conflict, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, we’ve done a number of interviews on the subject. To end Workplace Conflict Awareness Month, we’re going to share some of our favorite questions with some updated answers. 

Question: What are some tips you have for managers and business owners on handling conflict within their businesses whether it’s with their employees or other business associates? 

Answer:  Conflict is often creativity trying to happen, but keep in mind that creativity is a process. Creativity can bring fresh ideas into the organization. So, don’t always be quick to avoid conflict, unless it becomes destructive.  

Value and manage the relationships in your workforce. Everyone makes contributions and brings different ideas. Welcome new and different perspectives.  Well-managed conflict can be very positive in moving relationships and the organization along.

Finally, identify the problem at the root of the conflict so you’re certain you’re addressing the right issue.  Ask good questions and give good information.  Don’t get hung up on extraneous and irrelevant facts that have nothing to do with the issue. Resolving a conflict is really solving a problem.

Question: You mentioned well-managed conflicts. What are some ways you can assure a conflict is a well-managed one?

Answer: Listening is key to maintaining good relationships and getting good information. In a well-managed conflict, people share varying ideas, and the others should be listening without judgment, and not thinking how they are going to respond to the speaker.  If you stop and acknowledge “I’m going to hear what he or she is say without getting defensive or argumentative,” you can have some pretty amazing results. 

Take the time to really listen to each other. In doing so, it may occur to you that you never thought about what the other person is saying, and that may spark a good discussion. 

If you’re asked a question, pay attention and answer the question that’s asked.  Giving information that’s not relevant is frustrating and can derail an otherwise effective conversation.

Question:  Organizational change is constant in today’s business environment.  How can managers help employees deal with change to minimize conflict?

Answer: “Spring is a lovely reminder of how beautiful change can truly be.” And in 2021, spring has never looked brighter after a year-long pandemic that we’re emerging from.

Change can be uncomfortable for everyone, but it can also bring new energy into the organization. The challenge is getting through it. We’ve experienced lots of changes in 2020, and organizations are preparing for new ones as people head back to work.

Managers must recognize that people respond to change in different ways. Don’t forget that every individual employee has different needs during these times. Listen carefully when change is announced in your organization so you are comfortable explaining the change to your employees. 

Be honest with employees and explain what is driving the change. Communicate realistic expectations. For example, if your organization is moving to new working arrangements, employees will want to know where they fit in a changing organization. Be flexible and ready to adjust expectations as things progress. 

To learn more about our books on conflict management, visit our website at https://www.bigbookofhr.com/the-conflict-books

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Cost of Conflict


So many people avoid conflict, especially at work. That’s a problem especially if the leaders are conflict adverse. Let’s take a quantitative approach of what conflict costs an organization if you address it versus ignore it. Compare the two then decide what’s best for your organization. 

Addressing conflict has associated costs. Consider the situation where a manager observes two team members openly in conflict over some issue and recognizes her need to address it, preferably by sitting them both down and having a facilitated discussion. Calculate those costs: 1) the number of hours the manager spends preparing and holding the discussion times her hourly rate; and 2) the number of hours spent by the individuals in discussion times their hourly rates. This is the simplest approach, and it should be the most cost effective.

If an employee brings a formal, internal complaint, the complexity and costs increase. Someone (internal or external) investigates. It involves time gathering and reviewing background information, determining which individuals to interview, conducting those interviews, and preparing investigation reports. Estimate the amount of time the investigator spends (background, interviews, report) and multiply the estimated hours by his hourly rate. Then add the time spent by interviewees times their hourly rates. There may also be costs associated with legal advisors, depending on the nature of the complaint. 

If external charges are filed, charges of discrimination, for example, this is an indicator that the conflict may not have been acknowledged internally. The cost of responding to an external charge may be similar to internal investigations (fact gathering, interviews, responses).  However, legal counsel will likely be involved, and legal fees will accrue increasing the costs. If a lawsuit is filed, outside counsel’s legal fees will dominate. Needless to say, as the conflict moves further from the root cause, the costs will grow exponentially.

Now consider a situation where there is a conflict that is not brought to anyone’s attention, or perhaps it was, but was not addressed. Are you aware of how many people leave your organization because they have “suffered in silence” until reaching the point where they decide to leave?  The associated costs include lost productivity (can you calculate the extent?) and turnover (which you should be tracking). 

If a work environment is allowed to grow toxic, and the cause of the toxicity is ignored, consider the costs of low morale, lost productivity and extensive turnover.

So, what’s an organization to do if they want to minimize the costs of conflict?

  • Foster an environment where differences and problems are addressed. For example, the two team members who can bring their conflict to the manager.
  • Train managers how to spot issues so they don’t escalate.
  • Empower employees to confront conflict in a positive way, and support them when they bring the conflict forward. 
  • Hold all employees to the same standards.
  • Invest in training for managers and employees. Compare the training costs with the cost associated with conflict outlined above. Consider which approach brings your organization a larger return on its investment.

You can read more about conflict in our books, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. To learn more, visit our website at https://www.bigbookofhr.com/the-conflict-books

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What’s a Manager’s Role in Conflict?

It is Conflict Awareness Month, and you may be seeing a lot of articles and posts about ways to manage conflict in the workplace. One of the parts of conflict that is frequently overlooked is the role managers play in conflict between their team members. Should a manager jump in and try to resolve conflict or not?  

Managers often find themselves trapped in the middle of a situation, a situation or issue that is not theirs to solve. What’s a manager to do?  A manager doesn’t necessarily own every issue – the employees do. Here are five tips to help managers understand their role in and the best approach for dealing with workplace conflict:

  • Know when and how to intervene. Different circumstances call for different responses. If one employee’s lack of performance is preventing other employees from getting their jobs done, the manager has a direct role to play. He must address performance deficiencies of that team member. If an employee is struggling because of issues outside the workplace, then expert help, such as an employee assistance program, should be suggested.

  • Give your employees the space to grow. Employees need the freedom and authority to solve problems that relate to their work. Help them to learn conflict management techniques and develop problem-solving skills. As a manager, take advantage of this training yourself and model the techniques and skills you learn. Think of the positive impact for your organization when your workforce is skilled in avoiding the negative impact of unresolved conflict. 

  • Recognize that tension, egos, and emotions often get in the way. Managers have an interest in developing good working relationships among team members. You should define the problem and the impact it’s having in the workplace. Don’t discount the impact of emotions. Sometimes they are the person’s passion around an issue. Help employees control and balance emotions so they don’t interfere with resolution.  

  • Strengthen your own facilitation skills. You are often a neutral observer to a conflict. This is a great vantage point from which you can assist by guiding employees through a mediated discussion. Meet with employees, define roles, and set ground rules. The employees are the primary players, not you. They will be asking questions of each other and proposing solutions. You won’t offer advice, opinions or solutions, even if asked. You’re there to keep the discussion on track.

  • Optimize conflict – it’s often creativity and innovation trying to happen. Employees close to the work often have great ideas for better solutions. Help them brainstorm, evaluate and priorities these ideas. When people sit down and talk, calmly and rationally, great information and viewpoints are exchanged. Working relationships are strengthened. Embrace the point of view that conflict is essential in the workplace if it’s part of a creative and engaged culture that wants the organization to grow and thrive. 

To learn more about our books on conflict management, visit our website at https://www.bigbookofhr.com/the-conflict-books

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Without Trust, Conflict

 We know that conflict is a necessary ingredient in a good story, but how about at work? Well, if it’s managed and positive, conflict can lead to innovation and creativity resulting in business growth and success. Mean-spirited conflict, on the other hand, is great in a mystery, but at work it can erode trust and derail relationships quickly. 

Every good story has heroes or heroines and villains. They exist in real life and in real organizations. Consider a senior leader described as follows: Always confrontational whenever you ask a question or bring something to their attention. Doesn’t listen and talks over you. Speaks to others in a tone that is scolding and confrontational. Dismissive of others concerns. Doesn’t communicate in a respectful manner. Micromanages people’s time and schedules.

The challenge in this situation comes when others in the organization who interact with this leader say:

  • I avoid interaction and find a workaround.
  • I cringe when I have to ask something or bring up a situation. 
  • Too many negative encounters – my trust is eroded.
  • Behavior that doesn’t model our values.
  • Recurring behavior that is creating a negative, unproductive work environment.
  • I avoid conflict but the behavior has to stop. 

Sounds like it’s time for some respectful confrontation which should come from the leader’s boss since the comments about this leader’s behavior is widespread.  Some points the boss might make are:

  • You’re in a visible and valuable position in this organization, but your behavior towards your colleagues is eroding their trust in your abilities and in the organization. Let me give you some examples of the feedback I’ve received. 
  • We strive for a collaborative, respectful culture and work environment in the organization. However, your interactions with many staff members have resulted in expressions of poor morale and concerns about the work environment growing toxic. Here are examples of what I’ve heard. 

This gives the boss the opportunity to point out the behavior and the impact it’s having on others individually and on the entire organization. It also opens the conversation to talk about steps for improvement.

The next thing the head of this organization should do, along with modeling respectful behavior, is empower the employees to respond to negative behavior in a respectful and positive way. Examples of things they can say when encountering or observing negative behavior by anyone include:

  • Please don’t be dismissive toward others in your comments.
  • Talk like that is disingenuous and doesn’t support the values of the organization.
  • This goes against who we are as an organization. I can’t accept this type of behavior at work.

Finally, the organization must support and recognize employees when they confront or report negative behavior. Employees have to trust that everyone is accountable and held to the same standards. 

To learn more about our conflict books, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book visit our website at https://www.bigbookofhr.com/the-conflict-books.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Beam Me Up, Scotty


The year 2020 ushered in the #WFH (work from home) frenzy as offices closed during the pandemic. Zoom became the normal mode of communicating, meeting and collaborating. As employers contemplate the future and vaccinations allow people to slowly head back to work, it is certain that the workplace has changed forever. Hybrid workplace will undoubtedly be the new normal with employers rotating between working remotely and coming into physical office.

What will this do for collaboration? One thing we learned during the pandemic is that the lack of social interaction and in-person professional contact certainly put a strain on teams. If all team members are not in the same place at the same time, will that strain worsen? 

A colleague who consults with a client in another city shared that during the pandemic, Zoom meetings were a welcome change for her. In the past, she called into team meetings and was a lone voice on a speaker phone in the conference room. She felt more engaged in Zoom meetings when everyone was a square on the screen. Indeed, Zoom is working on a model where people who are present for a meeting in a conference room will have their own video boxes thereby allowing remote workers the same experience. Great start, but Zoom, a 2-D video call platform, does have its limitations.

Enter virtual reality and 3-D holograms. Dalvin Brown reported in The Washington Post on February 9, 2021, that a number of companies are launching 3-D display systems. One beams presenters into meetings and conferences, another enables hologram collaboration within virtual meeting rooms, and yet another enabled holographic-style virtual meetings on their platform. A number of other companies are racing to develop similar Web conferencing capabilities. 

The notion that is driving this innovation is that holograms are more engaging to work with than tiles of faces on a computer screen. Holograms provide the ability to read body language and other physical reactions in cyberspace, and they foster greater collaboration and communication among colleagues who are not or cannot be present in the same place. Not quite in-person professional contact, but certainly closer.

What about the expense of all of this? Traditionally, setting up high-definition holograms required expensive projection hardware and technicians. Software advancements, however, are unlocking ways to use laptops, computers, smartphones and other devices to engage with and stream holograms emitted elsewhere. 3-D display systems are also being developed and start-ups in the 3-D space are positioning their offerings.

It might not be much longer until we can all say, “Beam me up, Scotty,” or beam me into meetings and conferences we might otherwise be prohibited from attending. 

Cornelia Gamlem

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

How Are They Doing?

While a good manager always pays attention to their staff, right now is a critical time to lean closer to hear how they’re doing.

With so much uncertainty still facing us, and with the personal pressures your staff may be experiencing because of virtual learning, anxiety of getting vaccinated, and who knows what else, you should be paying close attention to just how people are feeling.

Here’s a simple idea to try—ask, “How are you feeling today or this week or right now?” Of course, you must sincerely want to know how that person is feeling, and you must listen carefully to the response you get. Be sure to ask all the employees on your team.

Don’t be surprised if you get a casual response at first because they aren’t sure you really want to know the truth. How can you convince them to open up? By sharing how you’re feeling and that may not be easy for some of you.

We’ve shared tips in previous blogs about the power of showing vulnerability, but this is even more personal. What if you shared how stressed you are and what you’re doing to move through the stress? Your team will see an entirely different side of you and that you are just as vulnerable to the stresses of our current work environment as they are.

You should have the “how are you doing” conversation privately, but you can share your own stressors with your team at your weekly meeting—whether it is virtual or in person. 

If you hear things from your team in your one-on-one conversations that you can change or impact in some practical way, move as quickly as possible. Maybe it’s a change in their schedule that could make their day a lot simpler to navigate. Maybe it’s a deadline that could be adjusted. Maybe it’s a report that they think has outlived its usefulness and if they could stop doing it, the time they saved could make all the difference in their productivity or in their personal life.

So, show your human side and don’t worry—they will respect you even more than they already do, and you could make a real difference in a life. That difference might save an employee from resigning due to competing schedules and wouldn’t that be worth it all?

Barbara Mitchell

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Remarkable American Women

In March we celebrate Women’s History, so I set out to write a blog spotlighting some—women who were leaders, advocates and activists. 

Dorothy Height. In 1929, Ms. Height was admitted to Barnard College but was not allowed to attend because the school had apparently met its yearly quota African American students. Instead, she went on to graduate from New York University. She eventually went on to work for the YMCA and joined the National Council of Negro Women beginning a career of fighting for civil rights and equality for black Americans and women. In 1957, she became NCNW’s fourth president, serving in the role for 40 years, and focused on ending the lynching of African Americans, restructuring the criminal justice system, and supporting voter registration in the South. Her prominence in the Civil Rights Movement and unmatched knowledge of organizing were noticed by several presidents who sought her advice.

In her memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates, she said, “I am the product of many whose lives have touch mine…” I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Height speak at a luncheon in Washington DC in the late 1990s. She touched the lives of everyone present in the room that day. Ms. Height died in 2010 at the age of 98.

Ida B. Wells. Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment and Women’s Right to Vote in 2020, it’s only fitting to honor a suffragist. Ida B. Wells was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher who battled sexism, racism, and violence. During the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade, a group of Black women marched in the back at the request of the parade’s organizers—who tried to discourage them from marching at all over concern of alienating Southern politicians. Ms. Wells was having none of this. On the day of the parade, she and her group, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, marched with the rest of the Illinois delegation near the front.

Throughout her career she called out white suffragists and politicians for their racism and exclusionist views, fought for equal education for Black children and young people, a free press, women’s rights, civil rights, and against lynching. She helped create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Dolores Huerta. Labor leader, organizer, feminist, and activists for women’s rights, civil rights, and environmental justice, Ms. Huerta is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. After receiving an associate teaching degree, she briefly taught school in the 1950s. She soon discovered that she “couldn’t tolerate seeing kids coming to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farmworkers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”  She cofounded the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) with Cesar Chavez in 1962 to help the laborers who planted, tended and picked the vegetables and fruits grown on American farms.

On June 5, 1968, she was on the platform beside Sen. Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he delivered his victory speech following his win of the California presidential primary. Only minutes later, Kennedy and five other people were shot walking through the hotel’s kitchen.

These passages just touch on the lives of these amazing women, and there are so many more to learn about. Take some time this month, this year, to learn about these and other remarkable American women. 

Cornelia Gamlem