5 Ways to Prevent Workplace Conflict

Posted on | February 25, 2010 | No Comments

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Handling conflict is one of the most frustrating and biggest drains on managers. A study conducted in 2008 by CPP revealed that the average U.S. employee spends 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict. That translates to 385 million working days spent each year due to conflict at work. Managing that conflict is results in reduced productivity, lower morale, and increased costs all while using valuable resources. Read more

Nobody Bring Me Bad News

Posted on | February 12, 2010 | No Comments

Managers by and large want to stay informed. They don’t like surprises and they don’t like to be caught not having the information they need. Yet many managers complain that their staffs don’t keep them informed. Those same managers may unwittingly be sending messages that deter people from speaking up. (Like the song in the Broadway musical The Wiz demanded, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.”)

If you are a boss and you’re wondering why your staff doesn’t step up to difficult conversations or tell you “the truth,” you might want o consider what you are doing to contribute to this situation. Consider how well you do the following:

1. Invite and welcome different opinions: Do you ask people for their opinions? Do you incorporate their thoughts into your own thinking? How visible is your acceptance of their opinions? Asking for different opinions invites others to speak, but what they will really remember is how you reacted to the information. If you regularly ask for and react well to input, people will keep giving it to you.
2. Put the truth on the table: Do you name the elephants in the room? Are you able to dialogue about the tough issues? If you openly acknowledge difficult subjects and encourage dialogue people will see you as someone who can handle the truth.
3. Distinguish “gripes” from legitimate concerns: Many managers get tired of people complaining and start sending out massages to their staffs not to come to them with complaints or problems. A good manager can help employees distinguish what is important and how to communicate that information.
4. Make problem solving visible: How do you let people know that you have attended to their concerns? How clear are you with what you can resolve and what you can’t resolve? Sometimes people need to know that you heard them but that the problem can’t be solved by you or at this time. If you can address a problem or issue, let people know it can be addressed, and how and when you will deal with it. If you can’t solve the problem, tell them why it can’t be addressed. Some information is better than no information. Great managers make problem-solving efforts visible and use them as good teaching opportunities.
5. Teach people how to approach you: Have you ever talked to your staff about how to approach you? Is there a good time to get you? Do you like things in writing first? Do you have an open-door policy? Do you prefer appointments? Don’t expect your employees to figure you out. Help them. A great manager is a good teacher. Let people know the best way to convey tough news to you.

It’s not always about how a message is delivered but about how it is received. The more you, as a manager, practice modeling being a good “receiver” of news, the more likely people will share information with you

The Gift of a Storm

Posted on | February 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

The winter storms have forced many of us in the D.C. area to slow down or stop work altogether this week. Fascinating how hard that is for so many of us. My first reaction to being without power—and therefore without TV, computers, hot water, lights, telephone, etc.—was actually relief. That was quickly followed by a sense of vacant space.

What do I do now?

I am so programmed to be “doing,” that simply “being” doesn’t seem enough. A swath of fear passed through me. What do I do with all this time and space??

An interesting question. I started observing my reactions.

I became very aware of my priorities. And that was scary!! I realized how much I have come to be dependent on distractions like the computer and TV, as well as the comforts of a hot shower and hot coffee. My priorities have been mostly around working.

In the midst of the storm, however, those priorities shifted to survival, and helping my neighbors, friends and, most of all, my family. Was everyone OK? I realized that I am not living in complete harmony with what I say I value, and I am far from just “being.”

As I allowed myself to stop resisting the situation and to move more into just being and relaxing, a great sense of joy came.

In a conversation with a client today who was experiencing a similar reaction, we practiced allowing the quiet to settle in. I coached my client to focus on her body and how it was feeling, to shift positions to invite relaxation. She was quickly able to move her focus from her “monkey mind” to her body and emotions. From that perspective she was able to tap into her heightened senses and become aware of what she really wanted to do, both today and in the next few weeks.

Try it. You don’t need a storm; you just need a minute or two:

1. Get in a comfortable position.
2. Bring your attention to your body.
3. Notice what you are feeling physically and emotionally.
4. Breathe deeply for a minute.
5. Focus on your body and invite all the tension to roll off.
6. Ask yourself: How am I?
7. See what shows up.

Doing this once a day will change your day, if not your life.

Work Meetings: To Meet or Not to Meet? That Is the Question

Posted on | February 4, 2010 | No Comments

Clients ask me all the time, “Should we have a meeting about this?” Yet those same people feel that they are in too many meetings and, often, that they are not using their time well. They tell me that they have work to do but can’t get it done because they are in meetings all day.

There are some guidelines to help you decide whether a meeting is necessary or not—but they don’t completely answer the question. That’s because meetings serve two purposes: to do collective work and to create community.

We often forget the community part, which is unfortunate. Everyone I know wants to have a sense of belonging at work, and meetings are often where that happens. Yet we try to keep them short, as demonstrated by the “stand-up meetings” that are currently in vogue. Or we issue tons of e-mails to replace meetings altogether.

These and other such devises have merits and, in fact, may reduce unnecessary meeting time. But they fail to provide employees with a sense of belonging and of collegiality.

Instead of focusing on cutting the length of meetings, start looking for ways to build community in them. Make them friendlier, more positive. Create opportunities for small group discussions, and give airtime for people to talk to each other. The stronger the bonds are between workers, and between the workers and the organization, the higher the morale and loyalty.

Next time you set up a meeting try a few techniques and see what happens. The results may be evident in the meeting immediately or they might take some time, but you will see a difference. Some ideas:

1. Have everyone say something at the beginning of the meeting. It might be personal or it might be something they hope to get from the meeting or it could be an accomplishment they are proud of. Just get everyone talking!!

2. Bring food. Allow some informal time at the beginning or the middle of the meeting. Let people chat informally.

3. For some part of your agenda ask people to get into pairs or trios and talk about the issue at hand. Let them report out their collective thoughts. Sometimes sharing on behalf of a small group is easier than sharing your own individual ideas. The smallness of the group will also allow some personal interaction.

4. At the end of the meeting ask each person to share learning, a take-away, or an appreciation. Again, get people involved and talking. Keep it as positive as possible.

5. Bring things for the table like simple toys. It’s a technique that is very useful. It brings some fun into the room and it reduces stress. Many of my clients who at first thought it odd to have toys told me later that it helped them pay attention better and it made the meeting more enjoyable. (And I have lost a few toys along the way, because many of my clients apparently wanted to keep them!)

6. Get away from a conference table. Use small tables or chairs. Use a different room, one that may be a lot friendlier or even cozy. Creating an inviting environment will help as well.

Change your Perspective and Change the Results

Posted on | February 2, 2010 | No Comments

Sometimes we find ourselves in dilemmas we can’t seem to solve. We keep repeating behaviors that don’t get us what we want. Einstein once said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Reviewing what mindset or perspective you are holding is a great way to find a new solution.

A client of mine—let’s call her Sally—gave me a great example.

A woman in Sally’s organization named Deborah, who is higher in rank, was regularly going to Sally’s boss and complaining about her. Sally was frustrated with this behavior and was worried about how it might endanger her reputation. Sally had tried a number of approaches to head off those conversations about her, including asking Deborah to come to her directly if she had any concerns. Sally had also gone to her boss and requested that her boss ask Deborah to go directly to Sally. Nothing was working. Sally felt powerless. How could she stop those conversations?

Sally was trying to solve the problem by dealing with it from a damage-control perspective. What if there was another way to look at it?

I asked Sally what her biggest fear was; she said that her reputation with her boss would be damaged. So, I asked, “What do you really want?” Her response was quick. “I want my boss to think I am doing a good job.”

I then asked Sally, “How does your boss evaluate your work, and where does she get her information?” Sally replied, “It’s based on my work performance and I am not sure where she gets her information.” Then she said, “I have been so focused on stopping these interchanges between my boss and Deborah, that I never thought about how I could give my boss positive information.”

With a new perspective Sally decided to take a completely different tack. She decided not to deal directly with Deborah’s behavior but instead to build her own credibility with her boss in other ways. She set out a plan to bring good news to her boss. Sally now uses her weekly meetings with her boss to deliver a summary of her division’s accomplishments and her own progress on important matters. Sally also sends her boss any acknowledgements of good work she or her division receives. So Sally’s boss now has a regular flow of information that shows how well Sally and her division are performing, and Sally feels confident that her boss has a fairly well balanced flow of information about her.

Sally demonstrated the power of shifting her perspective. The next time you feel that you are stuck in a repetitive pattern that is not getting you the results you want, try these suggestions:

1. Ask yourself what it is you REALLY want. Dig a bit to uncover the positive outcome you are seeking. If you want someone else’s behavior to change, then ask what that change would get you. The answer to that question is closer to what you ultimately want.

2. Stop focusing on the negative and look for the positive. We tend to focus on where we are having problems and that often leaves us feeling demoralized. Shift your perspective to what is working. Seeing the positive or even looking for the positive will help bring a new perspective.

3. Try on other views of the problem. Name the perspective you are in and then ask yourself what another perspective might be. If that doesn’t come easily to you, ask yourself how another person—someone you respect—might look at it. Think of something in nature, and ask yourself what it would think of this? Try on as many other viewpoints as you can and see which one feels best to you. From there, look for a new approach.

4. Break the problem down into smaller chunks. Sometimes we have a problem that is very complicated or has many elements. Don’t try to solve them all. Identify the various components and try to isolate one issue that is more manageable. Begin there.

Conversations Across the Generational Divide

Posted on | January 10, 2010 | No Comments

A lot has been written about the generational divide. Whether it’s the Greatest Generation, the Boomers or Generations X, Y or the Millenniums, we have all been conditioned to think that we have little in common. The truth is that most people, no matter what generation they were born into, want many of the same things. Most of us want to be respected, to be useful and to contribute positively to the workplace.

But while people generally want the same things, there are great generational differences in values, goals and communication styles and skills. When you are preparing to talk to someone of another generation, it’s helpful to think about your generational style and preferences and theirs. We have a tendency to think that how we want to communicate is how another person wants to. This is not always the case. There are real and substantial differences in how members of each generation communicate.

Below you will find a brief description of each generation and some tips for communicating with them. As you look at these lists bear in mind that these are generalizations compiled by sociologists, and that each person is unique and should be viewed as such. Hopefully these descriptions and tips will spark your thinking as you plan your conversations.

I. The Traditionalists
Also known as the Silent Generation, the traditionalists grew up with the Great Depression and World War II. They value hard work, loyalty, conformity and sacrifice. They work because it’s the right thing to do. They respect authority, value a person’s word and get their identity from their career. When communicating with a Traditionalist:
•Don’t expect them to openly share their thoughts or feelings easily or immediately.
•Focus on your words.
•Understand your word is your bond.
•Use face-to-face or written forms.
•Use formal style – sir, ma’am.
•Don’t waste their time.
•Show respect for their experience.

II. Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers were raised in a relatively stable economic time and had parents who wanted them to have more than they did. This generation is accustomed to competing in a large post-war generation. They value hard work in the pursuit of success, teamwork and competition and want to make a difference in the world. When communicating with Boomers:
•Use body language to transmit the message.
•Speak in an open and direct manner.
•Expect questions and to be asked for the details.
•Offer options to show your flexibility.
•Communicate that you value them.

III. Gen Xers
Despite its relatively young demographic, Generation X is considered economically conservative and somewhat cynical. They saw the failures of their parents’ generation. They do not rely on institutions for their long-term security. They value their time and want work-life balance. They like information and are used to getting it fast. When communicating with the Gen Xers:
•Employ electronic modes if possible.
Use short sound bites. Keep it short and simple.
•Give them feedback often.
•Ask for their feedback.
•Share information and keep them in the loop.
•Use an informal style.
•Give them room to do things their way.

IV. Millennials or Gen Y
The youngest generation currently in the work force, Millennials or Generation Y grew up in a high-tech world. This generation values autonomy and positive reinforcement. They are used to and expect diversity. They value the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and independence. When communicating with Millennials:
•Use action words.
•Challenge them.
•Seek their feedback.
•Give them feedback continually, and preferably positively.
•Use email or voicemail.
•Encourage them to take risks.
•Use humor.
•Give them an opportunity to work with bright, creative people.

Should You Keep Your Opinion to Yourself?

Posted on | December 14, 2009 | No Comments

Recently I read a blog post by Seth Godin, whose work I really enjoy. One of his best tips was, “The first rule of great feedback is this: No one cares about your opinion.” He went on to say that he prefers to hear analysis—facts, not opinion—when receiving feedback.

Godin’s distinction was helpful, but here is where I differ: Facts alone are not enough. People’s reactions to the facts influence how they respond. Their opinions will also influence their responses. You simply cannot ignore reactions or opinions.

When I am working with my clients on how to have productive conversations, I often find it important to make explicit what is fact and what is a reaction or opinion. They are both important.

Facts and data give you concrete, maybe verifiable information. People’s reactions to that data are of equal importance. When making decisions, you need both components. Let’s take a simple example:

I am meeting a friend. I am late. That’s a fact. My friend is mad. She has an opinion that my being late is disrespectful. That’s important!! In her feedback she could have said, “You’re late.” Fine and true. But if she says instead, “You’re late and I am upset about that,” then I have important information, which will influence me. If I want to stay her friend, I need to understand her thought processes and reactions. I have to make a decision about being mindful of time when I meet her in the future. I note, too, that this scenario would be different if I were meeting someone who didn’t care about timeliness.

In a work environment, this dynamic plays out all the time. If you deliver facts that people don’t like, don’t believe or don’t trust, they won’t make good decisions. Here’s an example:

A client of mine is looking at her company’s turnover rate. She gathers the facts and analyzes them. She then shares the information with the executive group. The group reviews the data and then reacts. They have opinions about the information. Some say the information is upsetting, some say it is insufficient data, and some find it reassuring. Now, the group has data and a sense of the reactions around the room (which is, in fact, more data).

What are the implications?? This group has to look at the “fact” that there is no consensus about the information. They cannot move forward with a decision until they resolve the differences of opinions. Having a deeper conversation about the group’s reactions led to a better understanding of the situation and the implications for the organization.

My partner, Tom Kornbluh, and I have developed a conversation model that we have found very useful with our clients. The model allows groups to explore both the facts and their reactions to them—but in a very conscious process. Methodically walking people through the steps help them stay on course—because mixing the two topics is very confusing and impedes progress. Using the model, discussions are more thorough and more efficient.

The PowerfulWork Conversation model is as follows:

• Set-up: explain the topic, the desired outcome and any decision-making process
• Data gathering: Provide or collect the needed data
• Individual reactions: Invite people to share their reactions
• Group implications: Discuss the implications of the data and the reactions
• Brainstorm options: What are the possible options or next steps available
• Conclusions: Select the desired conclusion or next step
• Summaries: Summarize the conversation and agreements made

Feel free to go to our website to download our free conversation templates. Give it a try!

What Are the Best Ways to Handle Conflict?

Posted on | December 11, 2009 | No Comments

As we engage with others in our lives we are continually bumping into each other. One of the great lessons I have learned and relearned (and may learn again) is the significance of taking responsibility for my own contribution to any misunderstanding. Why? For three reasons:

1. Being honest with myself gives me a more accurate understanding of who I am and how I contribute to my relationships, for better or worse. I then have more ability to choose what behaviors to use in the future.

2. Sharing my own “shortcomings” often gives others permission to be imperfect as well, and not feel bad about it. Sharing our imperfections is a beautiful way to love others and ourselves in a more holistic way. Making our imperfections “bad” or trying to hide them makes it impossible to grow and learn.

3. Sharing how I may have contributed to an issue clears the way for the other people involved to see their own contributions, rather than focusing on what I did.

I had a wonderful experience with this recently. I was facilitating a difficult conversation in which two participants were exhibiting behaviors that were negatively impacting the dialogue and the other participants. I began tightening my facilitation by asking people to stop interrupting and inviting non-speakers into the conversation.

After the meeting, a few participants thanked me for helping keep the conversation on track. One participant, however, was mad! I made an appointment with him to talk further about the meeting.

Using the Reboot method, I opened out conversation with a common goal and asked how he thought things went at the meting. He started slowly but eventually talked about how I had “shut him down.” I quickly acknowledged both his emotional reaction and that I had indeed done the things he had described.

“Yes”, I said,” I can see you are upset and you are correct that I asked you to stop talking and to listen for a while.”

He was visibly surprised and seemed to loose his incentive to continue telling me about my behavior. The air, if you will, came out of the tire. I was then free to ask him about his own behavior.

By skillfully questioning him about what he did and his intentions, he was then able to see and admit that his own behavior had indeed had a negative impact on the rest of the room. Because I had felt free to take ownership of my part, he felt safer and freer to admit his own.

My ability to take ownership created the space for him to look at himself. Had I not owned my part, he might have needed to continue to focus on me rather than himself.

The next time you find yourself in a conflict with someone, ask yourself what you did to contribute—or what the other person might say was your contribution. Examine it closely and take ownership of whatever is true, then be willing to admit it openly. You might be very surprised at the results.

I, of course, would love to hear what you learn from trying this technique. Please share your thoughts or experiences with “owning” your part in a conflict in the comment below.

Work Communication: Make It the Season of Appreciation at Work

Posted on | December 10, 2009 | No Comments

Many of us feel stressed by the holidays. We are often caught up in the need to buy material gifts, cook big dinners, and entertain guests—and we forget the true essence of giving.

A better gift, especially in these economic times, might be to revisit the notion of giving altogether. Because in reality, most people want to be valued, appreciated and loved more than they want any material things. Helping to create those intangible feelings may be the greatest gift we can give.

Our workplaces are a perfect place to shift our modes of giving from material things to gratitude and appreciation. At this holiday season, here are some tips for giving what most people really want:

1. Give acknowledgement. Make a list of the people with whom you work and identify what you most appreciate about them. Think about not only what they have done this year but also who they are. What do they bring to the office each day that you value? Then express your sincere appreciation to them. A personal expression, either verbally or in a handwritten note, is quite powerful.

2. Invite moments of gratitude and appreciation. At your staff meeting ask everyone to share something that they are proud of accomplishing or something they are grateful for this year. Take a moment to observe and celebrate those collective reflections.

3. Give the gift of service. Choose a meaningful community service project in your area and invite others to join you in giving your time and service. If someone you know has a project on which they need help, offer to assist.

The beauty of this shift is that it is easy and yet very powerful. Make it simple, make it sincere and make it meaningful. Giving in this way will make the holiday season a truly joyous one.

Move Forward by Letting Go

Posted on | November 24, 2009 | No Comments

Recently I was working with a client company that is struggling to survive in the current economic downturn. The leadership decided to take a few days to work on their team effectiveness and establish their goals for next year.

As we worked on plans to move forward, group members raised a number of issues about negative interactions with the more junior staff. One member of the team asked, “When did that happen?” The response indicated that the incident had occurred quite a while ago.

The group quickly recognized that it was entertaining old issues, so the team adopted a ground rule that, for the remaining meeting time, they would identify the timing of any incident they mentioned.

The question of “when did that happen” had incredible power. Locating the events in time allowed the executive team to see that it was trying to lead into the future, but that it was stuck in the past. That’s like trying to drive your car looking backwards!

This realization gave them the ability to sort out the current issues from the old ones. Then they were able to let go of the problems or issues that were no longer relevant. Removing the old and irrelevant issues freed the group to shift their attention and energy to what was ahead.

The next time you are in a meeting or facilitating a discussion in which people keep bringing up old stories, you might want to offer these questions:

1. When did it happen?
2. Who was involved?
3. Has it been resolved?
4. Can you let it go?
5. If not, what needs to be done?

Helping people to step back and examine their stories gives them the power to choose to let something go—or to do something to resolve the issue. Letting go of the past will free them up to shift their attention to what is actually happening and what they want to create. And that’s a much more powerful place to be!

Post script: This client was very successful in shifting their attention to designing some great processes to move forward.

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