Updated: Mar 26
A recent Gallup Poll of more than 1 million U.S. workers indicates the #1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or supervisor. Wondering if you or one of your managers is struggling as a boss? Look at your turnover rates. If they are low, you’re doing well. If they are in the middle, it’s time to start paying attention. If your turnover rates are high, you’ve got a problem. Unfortunately, turnover rates are often overlooked or explained away with a, “They’re leaving for more money.” Research indicates otherwise.
Your ability to communicate and resolve differences is key to your leadership success and employee satisfaction. For almost a quarter of a century Dr. Arnold Lazarus’s “Rules for Fighting Fairly” has been my go-to guide for teaching people to respectfully resolve conflicts.
If you want to maximize your effectiveness as a leader and strengthen relationships:
Rather than criticizing the person, address specific behaviors. While it may be accurate, telling someone, “You’re inconsiderate, lazy, or rude” only escalates problems. Instead of attacking their character and forcing them to either shut down or become defensive, state the problematic behavior. “When you are late,” “When you interrupt,” “When you leave customers waiting,” all clearly identify a problematic behavior without attacking someone’s personhood.
Addressing problematic behavior allows you to get to the heart of the matter quickly, decreases defensiveness and significantly increases your likelihood of being heard, which is critical to resolving conflict.
Refrain from telling employees what they are thinking/feeling, how they’re going to react or what they do/don’t know. Sentences that start with, “Now don’t get mad, but…” or “I know you think you know best, but…” are pretty much guaranteed to escalate into arguments. While you might be spot on, it’s not helpful or productive to micromanage another person’s emotions or thoughts. Instead of throwing gasoline on the fire, say what you need to say, then allow the person to respond.
Avoid saying, “You always” and “You never.” Unless you’re complimenting someone, “You always/never” is guaranteed to escalate emotions and derail disagreements. Instead of coming to a resolution, you’ll be hearing about the time(s) they did or didn’t do “xyz.” Drop these two phrases from your vocab and you’re well on your way to a productive disagreement.
Avoid right/wrong, good/bad categories. Most of how you desire things to be done as a business owner or boss are a preference rather than a rule that exists proclaiming there is only one way to do things. While cheating, stealing and lying are non-negotiables for most, how and when something gets done is generally a preference.
Determine your non-negotiables, values that are unshakable if someone wants to work for you and things that must be done in a precise way. Then, with clearly established goals and expectations, give your employees the freedom to determine how to best accomplish their tasks. They’ll be less argumentative, feel respected and be far more productive.
You’ll want to be prepared with appropriate consequences for employees who are chronically late, treat others poorly or do subpar work. As painful as it is, good leadership entails holding people responsible for their actions or lack thereof. Other employees take their cues about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior from you.
While conflict may not be pleasant, it doesn’t have to be destructive. These four guidelines are a great starting point for productive disagreements. If you’re thinking, “Wait, Sherene, there’s got to be more,” you’re right. Stay tuned. I can hardly wait for the next blog.
Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, August 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0814-leader-employees-relationships/