Updated: Mar 26
As a leader, you and the individuals you serve are either going to resolve or revolve conflict. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, far too many leaders to engage in the same disagreements over and over again. Week after week, month after month, year after year. Equally bad are the leaders who bury their head in the sand, hoping disagreements and problems are going to disappear on their own.
Leaders with respectful and well-developed conflict resolution skills maximize employee engagement and performance by refusing to ride the Ferris Wheel. Leaders lacking these skills have unhappy and underperforming employees and continue to stay stuck on the ride. The good news is if you’ve tended to bury your head in the sand or keep reengaging in the same argument, it’s never too late to do things differently.
Dr. Arnold Lazarus in his Rules for Fighting Fairly offers the following tips to help you successfully address problems and resolve conflicts:
Use “I” instead of “You” messages. “You are lazy and incompetent. You never get your reports in on time,” is going to be received differently from, “It frustrates and concerns me that your report is late. I need for you to complete your work on time. Can I count on you?”
Formula for Sending “I” Messages:
It frustrates, concerns, scares, angers… me, (insert impact)
When you fail to follow safety standards. (insert problematic behavior)
I need you to follow procedures. (insert desired behavior)
Can I count on you? (ask for their commitment to the requested behavior)
An opening sentence you will use over and over as a leader is, “It concerns me.” Other common impact words include frustrates, frightens, angers and disappoints. As a leader, you are responsible for what happens on your watch. If someone isn’t pulling his or her weight, is treating others poorly or is actively causing problems, concern, frustration, disappointment and anger are appropriate responses.
In one sentence, state the problematic behavior (i.e. tardiness, incomplete/subpar work, raising their voice in anger, etc.)
Again, in one sentence let them know the desired behavior. Just as knowing where the dartboard is greatly improves accuracy, you set yourself and others up for success when you let them know exactly where to aim their efforts.
Lastly, ask them to commit to the desired behavior. Then stay silent. It’s their turn to talk. If they say yes, great. If they say no, there is still a problem that needs your attention. Bottom line, a personal commitment significantly increases the likelihood the desired behavior will actually happen.
Be direct and honest. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Sending clear messages increases trust, cuts confusion and frees others from wasting time trying to figure out what you mean and want. Mixed messages confuse, frustrate and decrease productivity. Clear messages promote desired results. As productivity goes up, so does profitability.
Additionally, while it isn’t always possible or advisable to tell employees everything, if you want peak performance, everything you tell them needs to be honest and accurate. While your employees might not like what they hear, trust enables them to more easily roll with the punches.
All parties count. It’s not okay to win at another’s expense. Take the time and creativity needed to negotiate win-win solutions between individuals and departments. Can you always create win-wins? Of course not. There will be times you’ll need to draw the line. Your employees will respect and follow you even when they disagree if you regularly create win-win solutions.
While you can’t control how someone else responds, you significantly increase the likelihood of getting desired results when you handle conflict directly and respectfully. The next time conflict rears its head, what are you going to do differently?
Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, October 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden1014-positive-workplace-tips/