"conflict management"

Thu 8 September 2022
Handling personnel conflict is an essential part of a manager’s position. Regardless of how strong the company culture is, human challenges are inevitable. Since many team members have different work styles and personalities, there’s always the possibility they will clash. However, proper management of these problems can not only rectify conflict but also set up the workplace to be better equipped for future mitigation.

What is Workplace Conflict?

Workplace Conflict is often defined by CPP Global, or the creators of the Myers-Briggs Test, as “any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work.” CPP also noted that “85% of both individual contributors and leaders agreed they experienced some amount of inevitable conflict at work.” Conflict can manifest itself within the office in quite a few different ways, including some of the following:

·        Disagreements or Arguments
·        Verbal Abuse
·        Personality Clashes
·        Bullying
·        Difficult Relationships
·        Discriminatory Behavior
·        Physical Abuse or Harassment

Conflict is damaging in the workplace and can be a cause of a significant drop in productivity. According to Pollack Peacebuilding, each year an average of 485,000 individuals resign from their job as a result of conflicts with other coworkers. Replacing a direct report can be extremely expensive, since the hiring process often includes creating and distributing job postings, holding interviews, and going through training and onboarding processes. The easiest way to prevent this is to recognize the sources of conflict in the workplace as a manager.

What Causes Workplace Conflict?

            According to Gallup, one of the most frequent causes of all workplace conflict is inadequate communication. These communication breakdowns often pertain to the following causes:

·        Procedural Disagreements- These are typically when individuals cannot get on the same page regarding what work is required for completing a project. This can also include delegation of tasks.
·        Timeline/Deadline Disagreements- These occur when individuals have discrepancies on when a project or its pertaining components are to be completed.
·        Unrealistic Workloads- This will occur when certain direct reports have too much on their plate and either release their frustration on other coworkers, or gradually pull away to the point of what is known as “ghosting”, or disappear from the project either partially or completely.
·        Criticism- Many executive leaders often recommend following a constructive criticism structure to prevent unintentional verbal barrages onto recipients. However, some direct reports may not be able to take criticism well, and may consequently shut down, become overly defensive, and as a result, get into conflicts with other team members. 

How do Managers Prevent Conflict?

Managers can have many tools at their disposal to help mitigate or prevent conflict entirely. Many experts regard conflict with the same opinion as a fire- stopping it at the source will help prevent it from spreading. Looking for signs of conflict can be an important step for a manager in this venture.

Signs of Conflict are indicators that something may be amiss in the workplace. Many of these are often discovered in a 1:1 meeting, which should emphasize the importance of these meetings. Managers should not be afraid to ask about how a direct report is feeling about their coworkers and teammates during these meetings. 

Some signs of conflict within a team include the following:

·        Work is consistently late, or not of high quality
·        Requests to change groups, assignments, or transfers
·        Communication within teams is strictly for business, as opposed to being a mix of casual and professional
·        Issues directly brought up in manager/direct report 1:1 meetings
·        Tardiness
·        Frequent requests for Time off

Managers can also use Ambition in Motion’s AIM Insights to assist in tracking productivity and employee sentiment. AIM Insights allows managers to view how effectively and efficiently their direct reports completed the work that was assigned to them. It also has surveys explicitly for direct reports in regard to their feelings about their tasks. This metadata can help track a problem on its way to becoming a conflict. 

For example, let's say that Jake is a manager supervising Alicia, Bruno, and Hayley. Jake has been using AIM Insights for two months and is noticing that Alicia’s work has- by her own definition- not been up to par. He can also see that Alicia has been increasingly tardy with her work, often delivering her tasks well after deadlines, causing Bruno and Hayley to have to work overtime to ensure complete projects by company deadlines. Jake also can see how Bruno and Hayley feel about their work, and upon noticing that they are frequently having to do extra tasks without any overtime, can see the problem brewing. 

After using this data, Jake has the ability to approach Alicia and have a 1:1 with her and heading off any potential conflict between the teammates. 

Managers should also always be providing conflict recognition training to their direct reports. Creating a culture in the workplace that minimizes conflict, but can also recognize it will be invaluable to the company. 

This isn’t to say that all conflict is bad conflict. There is such a thing as healthy conflict. But for this article, we are focusing on eradicating negative conflict. 

Perhaps in this situation, Alicia could be going through something personal that is impacting her work output. As opposed to ignoring it and letting the frustration brew, or disciplining her without cause, it is critical that the manager better understand where she is coming from before determining the next step.

How to Manage Conflict that is already present

While heading off conflict before it erupts is ideal, it is unreasonable and naïve to believe that a manager will be able to always stop all conflict from even occurring. Therefore, professionalism will be of the utmost importance as they work with their direct reports. Here are some tips for managing conflict.

1.      Be objective- There is often no “good guy” vs “bad guy” situation set up. Conflict often goes both ways. 
2.      Acknowledge the conflict, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about it- Addressing an elephant in the room can often mitigate tensions, and then help to solve it.
3.      Facilitate a healthy discussion with the conflicting parties- Poor communication tends to cause many problems within a workplace. Sometimes addressing grievances can solve problems. 
4.      Use data- Stick to pure facts, and avoid bringing up sentiment. Telling a direct report that their coworker hates them will never help. However, explaining to them that they had a deadline that wasn’t met at the expense of their coworker’s time will have a much better impact. 
5.      Think about solving the problem, not the person- Having differing opinions helps the workplace so much more since workers can approach problems from different angles, often allowing managers to pick the most efficient solution for a problem. Fixing a problem between people is much more likely to be sustainable than changing the individual worker styles. 
6.      Create a plan for the future- It isn’t unlikely that the reason for this conflict could happen again in the future. Try to anticipate how it might manifest itself and create an action plan to avoid repeating history. 

Oftentimes, managers are quick to terminate before seeking to problem-solve with a direct report that is struggling or clashing with another team member(s). In most cases, this person isn’t intentionally trying to sabotage the team or create frustration for others. More often than not, they have pure intentions that aren’t being received in the way they were intended. The best managers seek to understand before diagnosing and rectifying a situation. Oftentimes, those solutions can be created by creating a lens as to how others are experiencing their actions and proposing new ways of doing things.

Conflict can be intimidating for any manager- especially newer ones. With the right skills, a manager need not worry about conflict and instead focus on being the most efficient they can be with their direct reports. 

Thu 8 September 2022
It can be lonely at the top. Managers must make decisions, and there aren’t too many people they can turn to for advice. Some managers want to be the “cool boss” that is comfortable with anything (think Michael Scott hosting a meeting in the conference room). Other managers believe that there can’t be any cordiality between them and their direct reports.
 This article will explain how managers can determine what is appropriate and what is not regarding relationships with direct reports. It explains why boundaries are necessary, and how to maintain social distance from your direct reports while creating a positive work environment with open communication and feedback, which many teams struggle with.
How can you find the perfect balance in the friend-manager relationship? Should you even try?
 
The Need for Friendships at Work
Research shows that friendships at work lead to enhanced emotional well-being. It’s important to have relationships with people who you can trust. 
Sharing life events decreases anxiety, improves productivity, and satisfies our need for human connection.
Of course, this is the case for peer-to-peer friendships, not employee-manager relationships. The latter requires a much more delicate balancing act by both parties.
 
The Need for Boundaries
A peer-to-peer relationship is an equal one; at least it should be. In an ideal world, there are no power plays to be had, and the two parties can be relatively open with one another at a personal level. 
A manager, however, must maintain boundaries with direct reports because they have significant influence over the direct report's professional and financial status. And that's a game-changer.
It is really difficult to be in the same fantasy football league with a direct report that then has to be disciplined or potentially fired…talk about awkward if you are matched up against each other in the playoffs!
The manager’s role in the relationship is to promote teamwork and guide individuals in their careers. A manager-direct relationship that is too friendly can compromise this role and make effective management impossible. There would be an imbalance in the way that one employee is treated over another. 
Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor and leadership expert, delves into the “problem” of joining a workplace and being told to be “professional,” as if every other aspect of you and your character stays at home, and you’re supposed to be strictly professional at work. 
            But that feels more robotic than realistic to the way people interact with each other. Professionalism training has been pounded into everyone’s heads since their first job. 
How can managers deal with the situation of being friendly with their employees, and also maintaining structured policies and professionalism in the workplace?
Scott relays the idea of “radical candor” as a guide to moving specific conversations between employees and managers to a better place. 
 
What is Radical Candor?
Radical Candor is a philosophy of management based on the concept of “caring personally” while “challenging directly.”
●       Practices to get, give and encourage guidance and feedback at work (praise and criticism) 
●       Strategies for building a cohesive team 
●       Tools to help you and your team get stuff done with less drama 
●       It’s not a license to act like a jerk 
●       It’s not an invitation to get creepily personal
●       It’s not just for managers, we all want to succeed 
 
Radical Candor is practiced at companies all around the world, including Amazon, The New York Times, Forbes, Qualtrics, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. 
 
Use the Radical Candor Framework to Guide Your Conversations 
Understanding what is not Radical Candor can help you better understand what is. These are the behaviors that everyone falls into at one time or another: 
 
●       Obnoxious Aggression: Obnoxious Aggression, also called brutal honesty or front stabbing, is what happens when you challenge someone directly, but don’t show you care about them personally. It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism and feedback that isn’t delivered kindly.
●       Ruinous Empathy: Ruinous Empathy is what happens when you want to spare someone’s short-term feelings, so you don’t tell them something they need to know. You Care Personally, but fail to Challenge Directly. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugar-coated and unclear. Or simply silence. Ruinous Empathy may feel nice or safe, but is ultimately unhelpful and even damaging. This is a feedback fail.
●       Manipulative Insincerity: Manipulative Insincerity (backstabbing, political or passive-aggressive behavior) is what happens when you neither Care Personally nor Challenge Directly. It’s praise that is insincere, flattery to a person’s face, and harsh criticism behind their back. Often it’s a self-protective reaction to Obnoxious Aggression. This is the worst kind of feedback failure.
 
            These are the behaviors that people can accidentally fall into in the workplace. These categories make up “radical candor.” The goal of this is to share your humble opinions directly, rather than talking badly about people behind their backs. 
            In a nutshell, radical candor is the ability to challenge others directly and show that you care about them personally at the same time. If done correctly, it will help you and all the people you surround yourself with do the best work of your/their lives and build trusted relationships throughout your career.
            However, as a manager, it can be difficult to manage these workplace relationships; constantly tweaking your approach to find the sweet spot between friendship and professionalism with your team. 
            As you’re working through this, remember that it’s important to have an outlet for yourself.
 
Managers Need Their Own Support Network
It can be lonely at the top where there must be boundaries set for working relationships. So, it's wise for managers to find their own support networks within the company culture and outside. 
A mentor can be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience and can provide you with advice. A professional career coach can also give you impartial advice and an objective opinion.
One highly-rated professional mentorship program is the Ambition In Motion Executive Mastermind Group. The key part of this program is that your mentor acts as a source of guidance and coaching, customized to your individual needs.
 
What is executive coaching? 
Executive coaches work with business leaders to enable their rapid development in the workplace. They also assist with specific problems that a board member, or senior manager, wants to work through outside of the normal business framework. 
This coaching focuses very specifically on the issues that an executive wants to work through. Thus it becomes a speedy way to improve skills and achieve personal and professional objectives.
The executive coach gives the executive feedback and a new perspective that enables them to set goals and work towards them. The coaching sessions use objective feedback to drive the executive's thought processes forward through their issues.
 
            As a manager or executive, having a support system such as an executive mentor is crucial. Following the radical candor framework will guide your conversations within the workplace. But be aware of your own need for support and friendship in the work environment and make a conscious effort to seek them out in the appropriate places. 
Fri 16 September 2022
When CEOs describe their company as being “like family,” they mean well with the idea. They’re searching for a model that represents the kind of relationships they want to have with their employees, a lifetime relationship with a sense of belonging. But using the term family makes it easy for misunderstandings to arise.
In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance: “We’re sorry daughter, but your mom and I have decided you’re just not a good fit. Your table-setting effort has been deteriorating for the past 6 months, and your obsession with ponies just isn’t adding any value. We’re going to have to let you go. But don’t take it the wrong way; it’s just family.”
Unthinkable, right? But that’s essentially what happens when a CEO describes the company as a family, then institutes strict policies and/or layoffs. Regardless of the situation, a “family-like” work culture will leave employees feeling hurt and betrayed. 
 
Why your company shouldn’t be a family
●       Families are dysfunctional. How many truly high-functioning families are you aware of? There are always a few weird uncles dragging the average down. Family situations are much different than professional ones. 
●       Families are impossible to get out of. There is a lot of safety in families because they’re something you’re born into and can never be born out of. However, this is the wrong kind of safety to cultivate. “Unconditional love” means you will put up with quite a bit of nonsense, bad work, and even poor effort. Yes, the goal is for your employees to feel safe in that they always know where they stand and they always know they can tell you the truth. However, you don’t want them feeling safe enough to be content with subpar performance.
●       Families instill too much loyalty. Some amount of loyalty is commendable, but families can often take this to the extreme. You don’t want employees so loyal to you that they’re unwilling to push back if you start making questionable decisions. You also don’t want employees so loyal to you that they have no drive to improve, thereby stagnating in their roles. As a leader, you want people that are willing to contribute, not just follow you blindly. 
 
Why your company should be a team
●       Teams are built around a common goal. First off, teams are built, not born. Presumably, you have a strong company mission in place, something you’re all working towards. Teams have goals – namely, to win. Families are typically more lenient.
●       You need people that can jump in and do just about anything, even if they can’t do it all well. As you grow, you need more specialists. You are constantly hiring people who are better than you at particular skills. There will be times when you grow to a size where some of your more tenured employees are no longer needed to take the company to the next level. This is a hard truth, but it’s also a natural part of building a team. Unless you’re a horrible person, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize and respond to employees that helped to build you into what you are today, but don’t have a clear future at the company.
●       Players choose you just as much as you choose them. You can join a team. You can’t join a family. A good team starts at the top, with ownership. That’s you. Hire good coaches, treat them well, and always work to improve, and the rest will trickle down.
 
 
Mission Drives and Improves Engagement
Employees who fall in love with their work experience have higher productivity levels and engagement, and they express loyalty to the company as they remain longer, costing the organization less over time. 
According to Marie-Claire Ross, Trust Leadership Speaker, mission-driven workers are 54 percent more likely to stay for five years at a company and 30 percent more likely to grow into high performers than those who arrive at work with only their paycheck as the motivator.
High-performance organizations are linked to being mission-driven companies. Mission statements must reflect a commitment to higher social good for the community they serve, both local and global. Authenticity and transparency build trust.
According to Deloitte, organizations high in trust are 2.5 times more likely to function as high-performance organizations with revenue growth than lower-performance organizations. Eighty-one percent of those working for companies with a strong mission stated their stakeholders hold trust in their leadership team, whereas that number was 54 percent for organizations without a strong mission.
Companies that cultivate a strong work culture driven by deep engagement and meaningful work find success, beat the competition, and retain and attract high-performing talent.
 
Are You a Leader Who Drives a Mission?
Many employees go to work to do their job and earn their take-home pay. How do employees feel beyond this point? What is the work experience like? Do they feel their job adds value to life? All of these factors are highly important to determining success.
Mission-driven leaders ingrain the “why” and “how” of an organization’s existence beyond the mere “what” of providing a product. They assist with aligning the team and individual employee to-dos with the mission, and the mission may have several interpretations among employees. 
Connection to the mission is commonly linked to why any given employee wanted to work for the company in the first place. Nurture those reasons and unite them with the company mission.
Fri 16 September 2022
Most managers and companies tend to prioritize results and goals over other aspects of the work like team chemistry or organizational citizenship. Generally, direct reports assume the role of a vital cog in this process. However, when direct reports fail to meet expectations, it can result in a lot of work for their peers, as well as their managers. Consequently, the first step a manager will take is often a reprimand followed by termination.

Why Terminations aren’t necessarily the Best Option

            Firstly, the most important aspect of terminating, or firing an employee, is that a replacement worker must be found. Sometimes, a manager can get lucky and find a good candidate in-house, but the majority of times, they need to go through the entire hiring process once more.  

The hiring process includes posting an advertisement, reading through applications, scheduling and hosting interviews, conducting background checks, validating certifications, and on top of that, an onboarding process. In addition to that, the former employee will typically receive some form of a severance package with the parting of ways.  Termination also eats up time with exit interviews, appeals, and potential litigation as a result of unlawful termination claims. 

All in all, terminations can be very expensive for time and money. But how else should a manager deal with an employee who isn’t necessarily living up to the expectations held of them?  There are typically a few options.

Understanding the Root of the Problem

As with many other discrepancies within the workplace, communicating with an employee can often result in finding the source of the problem. Oftentimes, people have personal baggage that may make its way within the workplace. In addition to baggage, worker stress is a very real phenomenon. In most circumstances, bad employees aren’t intentionally bad employees, they just made decisions that negatively impacted the business and didn’t have anyone to bounce the idea of logic off of before acting.

Signs of worker stress include the following:

·       Reclusive Behavior- This does not include introverted behavior, but rather the contrast between this and previous behavior.
·       Change in  Body Language- This once again, does not necessarily mean introverted behavior,  but rather withdrawn activity, slumps, and similar posture.
·       Personality Clashes- When someone is in distress or dealing with trauma, they may lash out at other people, or attempt to withhold their grief. 
·       Change in Productivity- Trauma survivors tend to have harsh changes in how much work they can accomplish.

One thing to take note of is that these are often signs of distress within most areas, but are often better exposed within the workplace. If a manager notices that one of their direct reports undergoes a sudden change in attitude, while also displaying signs of anxiety or depression, it may be best to have a 1:1 with them. Being empathetic will often yield much greater results than being confrontational within this 1:1. Understand that it takes a significant amount of trauma for a person to have changed a significant amount. 

A good example of this would be from one of my jobs while in high school, which was the role of a swim coach. I was a member of a team of 7, with shifts assigned to us by our aquatics director each week, and sometimes also by our camp director. We continued in this way for two to three years, and then all of a sudden, we were either missing pay, not getting our names on the schedule, or worst of all, not receiving a schedule whatsoever. We ended up complaining to our director since it appeared that our camp director was not fulfilling her job requirements, and as a result, damaging our financial abilities with no regard for or time. 

Our boss was a very thorough individual and was able to have a healthy conversation with our camp director, out of concern for her performance, as well as her well-being. It had turned out that she had not only lost her father the previous week but had also been given additional responsibilities by the overall site director. With no other relatives, she alone was in charge of managing all probate-related duties and processes, but also organizing funeral details and bills. All in all, she was completely overwhelmed. 

Now, in worse managed work environments, this camp director, despite boasting over 15 years of experience in the field, would’ve been terminated. However, our boss knew her potential, and that this was a life-changing period of time for her. Therefore, he took on additional responsibilities and gave her as much time off as she needed. About a month later, she came back and was able to not only resume her original responsibilities but also that of her new position, to much more success. 

The moral of this story is that being empathetic is well-advised. Proper communication with direct reports is not only better for workplace relationships, but also ideal for difficult situations such as this. Providing accommodations for workers can eliminate the need for a replacement process.

How to Help Employees who are having trouble meeting expectations

While there are often employees who are undergoing significant personal situations, some employees may be unaccustomed to their new workloads, and responsibilities, or just find the material difficult. In this case, it is the manager’s responsibility and duty to try to assist these individuals. 

Using an impartial process can often help employees who are struggling. These are often known as Performance Improvement Plans or PIPs. The one problem with these is that they are often viewed extremely negatively, and often as a pathway to termination. Rather than giving strong targets that must be hit in order to maintain a job, managers should give fluid and flexible objectives that will not only allow for more success, but also for employee education and improvement. Using a device such as AIM Insights can also allow for a manager to have greater ease checking what goals have been met, along with more aggregated data about these goals, such as percent of goals achieved, and similar functions.

No manager should want to terminate an employee but may feel pressure to do so. While termination may still be required, it is best to approach these situations with empathy, and attempt to solve the problem in-house without resorting to this step.

Thu 22 September 2022
As interest rates rise and consumer spending habits change, rumors of a recession have started to emerge as a strong possibility for the coming months.

Regardless of whether a recession happens, the mere rumors of a recession can have a massive impact on our employees and their feelings about work, and managers should be considering how to adapt their leadership style to handle any economic worries by their direct reports.

On a high level, below are a list of things that typically happen when there are concerns of a recession:

·        Companies go on hiring freezes or begin laying people off – Companies tend to hire based on what they believe they will need so when a recession strikes and their projections are incorrect, they are forced to change course and lay people off as they adjust their projections.
·        Employee confidence diminishes – Strong economies with low unemployment help employees feel confident asking for higher wages and greater perks.
·        Teams are consolidated – Companies create departments and teams based on projected growth, but when economies start to slow, teams tend to be merged, people are laid off and those remaining must pick up the additional workload. 

Some companies and industries and going to be more impacted than others. If you lead a team and feel that your direct reports show some concern about the economy, this article covers how to be a better leader in times of uncertainty.

As a professional, I am a firm believer that you are an entrepreneur of your own life. I am not writing that everyone should be an entrepreneur, but as a person, you have full agency to make the decisions that you believe are best for you. When it comes to work, especially if you lead a team, it is critical that you do your own research to identify if the company you work for will thrive for the foreseeable future.

For example, one of the executives in our mastermind group works for a company that does COVID tests. This business model boomed over the past few years, but as fewer people get COVID tests, our leader has recognized that something needs to change for his team to continue working for their company. 

As opposed to doing the same thing over and over again as business dwindles, he is being completely candid with his team. He has been identifying business opportunities that he and his company can pursue based on the infrastructure they have created over the past few years. Essentially, he is becoming an intrapreneur – or a person who is pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities within a company.

This openness, honesty, and candor has caused his team to feel excited about the work they are doing. They still complete the tasks that keep the lights on, but they are taking the additional time they have from diminished business and putting that towards identifying new opportunities they can leverage and deploy. 

Many of the ideas proposed won’t work out, but it is much better than doing nothing and hoping it works out. His team has greater clarity and understanding regarding the business’s health and prospects, and most employees are staying and trying to help find a new path for this business.

This team is still searching for the next business model that will reinvigorate their business, but this isn’t solely a task for the leadership team anymore. Now, the entire company can be a part of the solution.

Therefore, to recap, when your team feels uncertainty because of a potential recession:

1.      Lean into the concerns and share openly and candidly why the company’s current way of operating won’t be affected by a recession (e.g. if you work in healthcare or grocery, you can share multiple data points that show that those industries tend to be minimally affected by a recession) or what you are doing to pivot and stay agile even if a recession does come.
2.      Incorporate your team in the innovation process when it comes to identifying ways to cut costs and increase revenue (laying people off has a very negative impact on employee morale and confidence).
3.      Understand the risks and benefits because if your team is unsuccessful at effectively pivoting, your employees will understand why they are being laid off. The benefit of incorporating your team in the innovation process is that they will feel that they had a chance (an opportunity!) to help be a part of the solution that turned the company around as opposed to being left in the dark and then one day getting laid off.

The key when identifying the opportunities to innovate and pivot is to explicitly lay out the risk tolerance you have for ideas. You may not have a million dollars to test out every idea, but you might have $1,000 and that could be enough to garner some early data points of success or failure. Risk tolerance also applies to legal risk. Our executive in our mastermind group is in the healthcare space which has rules and regulations companies must follow. It is critical that your team understands those rules and regulations before trying different ideas.

·        Set up both team and 1:1 meetings to meet with your direct reports to ask them if they have concerns and if so, what concerns do they have. Don’t avoid the conversation because a solution is unknown.  
·        Once you have gathered all of the concerns shared, craft a response for each concern. A response could be why the current way the company operates won’t be affected by the concern proposed, a potential solution that is being implemented that should alleviate the concern, or incorporate them in the solution process to help alleviate the concern as a group.
·        Clearly lay out a plan for your team for what the next 3, 6, 9, and 12 months will look if a recession has little to no effect on the company, a moderate effect on the company, and a major effect on the company. The worst thing you can give your team is uncertainty so crafting this projection allows them to fully understand and prepare for the worst possible outcome (which is never as scary as the unknown negative possibilities they could come up with in their minds).

Regardless of whether or not you are right, people will follow those that are certain. Certainty can come in the form of processes, inclusion in the solution, metrics that show why things will be fine, or projections for the best, moderate, and worst-case scenarios. 

As a leader of people during times of uncertainty, you must give people certainty.

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