by Janet Hawkins
Editorís note: This is one in a continuing series of articles that provide tips for better communication.
Loretta was livid. Her new interim boss had chewed out one of her customer service workers without talking to her first.
"He had asked her to write up a problem, a formal report, to get it resolved," says Loretta, a mid-level manager at a Midwest computer software company. "But he didnít tell her when he wanted it nor did he ask if she knew how to file it, he just assumed that she knew. When it wasnít done two days later, he exploded and I exploded right back."
Lorettaís boss had worked in the technical end of the business for some time and had taken on the temporary assignment to gain supervisory experience.
This kind of reassignment is common among companies struggling to fill positions left vacant by employee retirements or resignations. Whatís also common is the lack of training given to people who suddenly find themselves supervising others. This was what Loretta and her staff now faced, and it was up to her to begin the mending process.
Understanding vs. stubbornness
Author David Stiebel believes that poor communication often is not the cause of a dispute; instead itís the result. He says that thereís a fundamental assumption among people in disagreement, the assumption being that thereís no real conflict, only a poor understanding of the issue.
Stiebel says that in reality people can usually recognize the point of view of others. What they should concentrate on is how to recognize when greater understanding is the key. In other words, recognizing the true nature of solving it.
Establishing common ground
"My worker had no problem writing up the report. She knew that sheíd have to do some work to learn how to file it properly, and she assumed that she had more time in which to do it," Loretta says. "Itís the assumptions that get you every time. I was angry that he had left me out of the loop.
That was the first thing we had to get straight when we talked." After composing herself, Loretta asked her new supervisor what his expectations were. Then she shared hers with him.
"I asked him to come to me first if he had an issue with my staff, to let me be a buffer for him," says Loretta. "I didnít want to put him on the defensive and I wanted him to know that I respected his authority. So I told him that with his help we have a lot of opportunity to improve; in turn I asked him to recognize the expertise my workers provide to him.
"Talking face to face really helped prevent further misunderstandings. I could tell from his body language how things were going. I knew that work style was an important issue here. Strong-arm tactics may have served him well in his other job, but they werenít going to work here."
In his book, "When Talking Makes Things Worse!: Resolving Problems When Communication Fails," author David Stiebel gives us a four-step strategy for resolving conflict. This strategy encourages anticipating an opponentís reactions and playing to
them, often by underemphasizing our own motives, in order to get what we want.
Step 1.Decide whether you have a misunderstanding or a true disagreement.
Create the other personís next move. Focus on what you want them to do; then decide what you will do.
Step 3.Use their own perceptions to convince them.
Step 4. Predict the other personís response. This will help you better manage your approach to the conflict.
|Have NO FEAR
In her article, "Butting Heads in the Workplace" (Quality Progress, v. 31 no5 (May Ď98)), management consultant Jo Hawkins-Donovan suggests the NO FEAR approach to conflict resolution.
Now. In most cases, itís best to face the conflict when it arises. The exception to this is if anger has reached the boiling point. If thatís the case, wait. If youíre the one seething in anger, be honest and let the other person know when youíll talk later.
Open. Be open to the other personís perspective. Also be open to the intention of the conflict Ė what outcome do you want?
Feelings. A conflict is almost always charged with emotion. Learn to recognize emotions Ė such as fear, anger, and apprehension Ė and acknowledge them.
Effect. Recognize the effect the conflict has on you, the other person, and on the organization.
Alignment. Stay aligned with the other person. Respond with respect. Refrain from using the connecting verb "but" ("You did a good job on the report, but itís overdue and we canít use it"). And take responsibility for returning to common ground.
Request. Instead of leaving the exchange open-ended, end it with a request. Perhaps there is some follow-upthat needs to take place. With agreement from the other person, decide on the consequences for failing to meet the request.