Life Would Be So Easy If Youd Just Do Things My Way!
It seems that there are very few universal truths anymore.
People and situations change quickly and often. Individuality and diversity
tend to speak louder than homogeneity and consistency in most organizations.
Identifying oneself as outside of the norm is an important behavioral
model for many employees today.
There is, however, an ironic discrepancy that often shows
up in the teams and departments of many organizations. A manager may
have collected the most intelligent, technically skilled people in their
field who have all of the right experience and lots of motivation to
perform well. If, by contrast, those co-workers have personality
clashes and lack the skills to negotiate healthy work relationships,
their technical expertise is almost irrelevant. Their chances of success
and productivity are slim or none.
Two of the most frequent reasons that management consultants
are called in to a client system are to
a) mediate between two warring employees, either boss-subordinate
or two peers, or
b) coach an entire group or department in how to pull
together and work as a healthy, productive team.
Why are these types of interpersonal conflicts so prevalent?
The causes are numerous, but the most common sources of friction include:
1. Very different personality styles and preferences,
as measured by instruments like the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory,
2. Disparate levels of experience and confidence, causing
some people to hold back, while others try to dominate and gain control
3. Conflicting needs and priorities, which are often
exacerbated by dwindling resources, business downturns, layoffs, etc.,
4. Individual baggage, stressors or agendas
that people bring in the door each morning, that have more to do with
their personal lives and background than current work situations, but
that directly impact co-workers with their toxic by-products.
Any time you collect a group of more than ONE person,
you have the potential for at least occasional conflict. [Some people
can have an argument with themselves, alone in a quiet room!] But it
is not these intermittent episodes of a bad hair day that
managers and executives lose sleep over. It is the insidious effects
of long-term battles on the adversaries themselves, as well as on all
or most of their colleagues who share their work environment.
Unfortunately, it rarely works to have one person try
to convince their nemesis just to sit down, be quiet and do things
my way! There are, however, some proven steps that leaders need
to take when addressing these sorts of issues.
1. Begin by defining the problem. This is sometimes done
by the manager, the Human Resources person, an outside mediator and/or
coach. When possible, get input from the people directly involved in
the conflict, either individually, or together in the same room. Some
questions that help frame this defining process include:
a. What do you think are the issues or sources of conflict
b. [If relevant] What do you see as the causes or historical
background for this situation?
c. What would things look, sound and feel like if the
relationship between you were ideal, or at least improved?
If the conflicting parties are in the room together,
it is important to set up some ground rules about how to convey opinions
and how to listen, so as to avoid the further escalation of tensions.
2. Summarize and draw conclusions from the information
gathered in the first step. Look for themes, similar concerns on both
sides and for concrete, specific issues to address. Depending on the
people involved, it is best to do this with all of the involved people
present. When tempers are too hot, this is not always possible.
3. Based on the first two steps, make decisions about
remediation options. Determine if it would be most helpful to
a. Mediate and coach together the two or three people
who seem to be at the center of the conflict,
b. Coach, train and strategize with the entire team
or department, so that they work together to improve relationships,
patterns and learn to coach and support each other, or
c. Advise and support one or more of the individuals
involved in a one-on-one setting, based on who is most receptive to
and who is most motivated to reflect and explore new options for communicating.
The specific skills and strategies which are explained,
modeled and practiced must be tailored to the nature of the conflict
needs of the people involved.
4. Develop a specific plan with decisions and agreements
that emerged from the remediation options you choose. This should include
a) WHO will do WHAT for WHOM, HOW and by WHEN,
b) what are the specific steps taken by each person,
c) what will be the concrete measures or behavioral indicators that
mark progress, and
d) WHO will follow up HOW with WHOM by WHEN to assess
If these elements are not clearly delineated and agreed
to by all of the relevant parties, the preceding steps have been a waste
of time, and little or no improvement will occur.
Ideally, the people involved will use the tensions between
them to learn about themselves, creatively solve problems and possibly identify a new our way to replace my
way. In most cases, they will at least find an acceptable middle path that
provides for some flexibility between their diverse viewpoints, styles
If Spero & Company
can be of help to you with any of these steps, feel free to give us
a call. You can reach us us at 303-671-9030 or email us at email@example.com.
2005, Spero & Company Consultants, LLC
Other articles by Susan Spero:
Change: Lessons Learned from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping
1/2 Reasons to Hire Us
THINK: A Tool for Triggering Creativity, Enthusiasm and Solutions!