Reduce Workplace Conflict Like A Rock Star

Reduce Workplace Conflict Like A Rock Star

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Stress

Is the vast majority of your time spent babysitting people who can’t get along? If so, you are not alone. Studies indicate that managers spend anywhere from 20 to 42 percent of their time trying to manage employee conflict. In addition to tying up valuable time, workplace conflict increases absenteeism and health care costs, reduces the quality of decision making, pushes good employees to leave, increases the likelihood of damage and theft, and lowers morale.

Did you know that strained work relationships cause 65 percent of employee performance problems? That more than 50 percent of employees waste work time worrying about how they’ve been treated? That 22 percent of employees deliberately slow down their work in response to conflict?
Until leaders learn to step up and effectively handle conflict, and corporate cultures are changed, employee conflict will continue to negatively impact the bottom line of otherwise great organizations.

While I believe the learning curve can be significantly decreased, research indicates it takes 16 hours of hearing about conflict resolution for individuals to begin acting on what they’ve learned. Master resolving conflict as a leader and you’ll enjoy a happier, more productive workforce and a better bottom line. Fail to master conflict and things will get progressively worse.

Here are three rules I’ve uncovered through over a quarter of a century of experience equipping leaders for success in and out of the workplace:

1. Nip problems in the bud. Just as weeds are easily picked when small, conflict is most easily resolved in its earliest stages. The first time a problem arises, have a conversation. That enables you to address it in a calmer, more collaborative manner than when it has happened multiple times.

You’ll know you need to say something when you’ve spent more than 15 minutes thinking about what happened. Your energy and attention will no longer be focused on moving forward, but on looking backward. And, if you know you’ll be angry if it happens again, assume it will and nip it in the bud.

2. Avoid piling on. As in football, not piling on provides protection. Additionally, it helps ensure that the message you need to send will be heard.

Years ago, as I was leaving to start my doctorate, a colleague informed me that I had upset him. I listened and apologized. He then told me something else he believed I’d done wrong. Again, I apologized. Feeling beaten up, my reply to his third complaint was, “OK.” Having no interest in being his punching bag, I politely ended the conversation when he started his fourth concern. Were his complaints valid? Perhaps, but his piling on resulted in me self-protecting by tuning him out and dismissing the entirety of what he had shared.

3. Reflect back the key points you’ve heard before responding to someone’s concerns. People will more easily accept your viewpoint or a decision that they don’t agree with once they know you’ve heard their thoughts. Ignore this step and they’ll either shut down, believing there is no point in talking to you, or they’ll increase the volume and intensity of their argument in an effort to help you better understand what they are trying to say and its importance.

Follow these rules for not throwing gasoline on the fire of conflict and you significantly increase your likelihood of being heard and of resolving conflict quickly and civilly. As you cut down the static inherent in conflict, you empower the involved individuals to create win-win solutions that will benefit you, your employees and your organization.

As you create an environment that ensures each employee feels valued, respected and heard, your productivity and profitability will soar.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, December 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden1214-resolve-workplace-conflicts/

Resolve or Revolve Conflict: The Choice Is Yours

Resolve or Revolve Conflict: The Choice Is Yours

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

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/

#1 Reason People Quit Their Jobs

#1 Reason People Quit Their Jobs

Bad Boss Burnout Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

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/

Bickering Or “Bliss”?

Bickering Or “Bliss”?

Conflict Resolution Employee Engagement Leadership Stress

I worry about two types of organizations: those with constant bickering and backbiting and those where everyone passively gets along “perfectly.” While the “perfect” environment might sound great, it’s important to know that a lack of conflict is actually an indicator that something is wrong and it isn’t safe to disagree or speak the truth. On the other end of the spectrum, incessant arguing and backstabbing indicate a lack of productive conflict resolution skills and the safety necessary in order to bring out the best in each employee. Only environments that utilize conflict productively are able to maximize productivity and profitability.

So what about you? What kind of environment are your currently working in? What kind of an environment are you promoting through your leadership?

Everything Is A Battle

High conflict organizations are characterized by constant bickering, bullying and disrespect that trickles down from the top between owners and/or senior managers, all the way down the line. Unfortunately, customers often get caught in the crosshairs.

High battle departments and companies struggle with low morale, frustration and fear. If this is happening under your watch, here’s what your employees want to say: “The fighting is embarrassing and stressful.” “I don’t get paid enough to babysit adults.” “I just keep my head down and do what I’m asked.”

What You Can’t See CAN Hurt You

On the opposite end are organizations without conflict. While seemingly ideal, such organizations are characterized by disengagement, stagnation and fear. Fear that if a dissenting opinion is voiced or there is an argument, things won’t go well, relationships will be ruined or they’ll be ostracized. Your employees may hint, but won’t directly say: “Work is boring.” “We could be so much better.” “I wish you’d ask my opinion.” “If we don’t innovate, we might cease to exist.”

The Sweet Spot of Constructive Conflict

The sweet spot for maximizing profitability and productivity is between the two extremes. In high-functioning work environments, respectful, constructive conflict is the norm. Employees are encouraged and expected to bring their “A Game,” to voice disagreements, and to tell the truth. Bullying and abusive behaviors aren’t tolerated, and employees are expected to say what they mean and mean what they say.

A key benefit of such a culture is that better solutions emerge as differing opinions are batted about and built upon.

Additionally, when employees aren’t walking on eggshells, babysitting or constantly on high alert, their energy is freed to focus on the task at hand, improve the business and boost the bottom line.

Take a look around

What about you? Where is your organization?

If you’ve got ongoing, unresolved conflict, if disagreements lead to personal attacks, if absenteeism is high, if your staff is ducking and covering or relieved when you’re on the road or when a bully is absent, it’s time to bring constructive conflict into your business.

It’s hard to do this without conflict resolution skills, but you can begin to change cultures immediately by modeling and asking others to be civil. The faculty and administration constantly bickered at the university where I taught. If one said “black,” “white” was the kneejerk response. Things immediately improved when a new president stated, “My door is open and you can say anything you want to me, but you will say it civilly.”

If your workplace is stagnant and stuck in the status quo, or you have polite but disengaged employees or passion is lacking, create a culture where your people are utilized to their full potential, where it’s ok to disagree and where your people work together to create better solutions and products. It’ll take courage and consistency, but it can be done.

If morale is high, business is growing, absenteeism is low, your employees are fully engaged, bringing up new ideas and refining processes, congratulations. You’ve created an environment that brings out the best in your employees and promotes your bottom line. Now protect your culture.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, July 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0614-motivated-employees/

Burnout Or A Better Bottom Line

Burnout Or A Better Bottom Line

Burnout Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Stress

Run, run, run. Do more with fewer and fewer resources. Deal with difficult people. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It’s another day in the life of a leader.

Depending on your position and personality, you might flourish working under the gun. If you’re like some, rushing around, rising to the occasion and problem solving brings out the best in you. There is no mountain you can’t climb. No obstacle you can’t overcome. Your biggest challenge might be turning off your brain long enough to get a good night’s rest before you dive in all over again.

Unfortunately, what you find stimulating, inspiring and exciting, can be overwhelming and stressful for others, especially those under your leadership. It’s one thing to create a vision and quite another to be tasked with bringing it to fruition. As a leader, it’s critical to look at stress and burnout and how you can create an environment that maximizes productivity and improves your bottom line.

Stress is generally caused by having too much to do, and the worry and anxiety that accompanies problems in and out of the workplace. Stressed individuals lose their tolerance for frustration, take things personally, and either become agitated or emotionally shut down. Not good for business, productivity or employee satisfaction.

Burnout, the collapse of physical or emotional strength or motivation resulting from extended periods of stress or frustration, also negatively impacts your bottom line as it leads to exhaustion, loss of motivation and ineffectiveness. Highly stressed or burned-out individuals are not good for employee morale or engagement, stellar customer service or the bottom line.

Here are quick tips you can immediately implement to minimize workplace stress and burnout:

1. Take care of yourself physically and encourage your employees to do the same. Get plenty of water, nutrient-rich food and a good night’s rest so that you aren’t burning the candle at both ends. Encourage your employees to do the same. Whether your people are engaging in outdoor labor or working in a temperature controlled environment, a hydrated worker is a more efficient worker. Think of your employees like athletes. Coolers full of Gatorade aren’t just for dousing the coach after a big win.

2. Express appreciation regularly. Employees who feel valued and appreciated are motivated to work harder and are far less likely to be stressed or burned out than those who are treated like expendable objects. Appreciation is a wonderful antidote to stress and burnout.

3. Make sure everyone carries their load. It’s tempting to not want to rock the boat with a temporary employee or someone who is slacking off. Unfortunately, overlooking the slackers puts a lot more pressure on your high performers. It also is incredibly frustrating and demotivating, and leads to stress and burnout. Why should your best people perform at their highest levels if others are allowed to lollygag?

4. Address problems as they arise. Problems are never pleasant and often ignored in hopes they will go away. Unfortunately, problems rarely disappear on their own. Taking care of problems is like weeding. Baby weeds are easy to pull, but once they take root, they can be a bear. If an employee is unhappy, have a conversation. Find out what’s wrong and if you can do anything to help. Unresolved and ongoing arguments drain energy and take a huge toll on productivity and work satisfaction.

Even during your busiest season, you have the power to minimize stress and in doing so significantly decrease the likelihood of burnout among your staff. Implementing even one of these tips will bring about good results.

Master all four and you’ll have the satisfaction of watching productivity, job satisfaction and profitability soar.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, April 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden0414-avoid-burnout/