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Mar 20, 2012

Employee Conflict

These are some common beliefs about the three stages of employee conflict.

Here are my thoughts - what do you think?

•"The presence of conflict is the sign of a poor leader!" (I think conflict used in a competitive way to generate new ideas or increase productivity to meet an earlier deadline can be a good thing.)

•"Anger is always negative and destructive." (I think anger can become negative and destructive if allowed to develop and grow.)

•"Conflict, if left alone, will take care of itself." (I think that's not always true. I believe leaders should always be aware of conflict within their groups but not always involved. Sometimes it can take care of itself.)

•"Conflict must be resolved immediately." (Once again, not necessarily. This is like the one above that can become a problem but is not automatically one requiring the leader's intervention. A wise leader will observe and see if the participants can work out their own differences. After all, the leader will not always be there to act as a referee.)

Conflict builds in three distinct stages and has these characteristics.

STAGE ONE-"Irritating Daily Events"

Characteristics and clues of Stage One

•Comments are focused on "non-human" topics (machinery, weather, traffic, the "system [computers, the organizational culture, procedures]" etc.)
•Words are in the present tense ("This copier is out of paper".)
•More focus on a solution than the problem ("This copier is out of paper: where is the supply so I can refill it?")

Ways to Handle Stage One

•Initiate a response that examines the situation. ("Looks like the copier's out of paper. Do you know where the stock of it is?")
•Ask yourself if the reaction is proportional to the situation. Is anyone carrying "baggage" from previous situations? How would you know? Hint: What tense are they using to describe their position: present or past?
•Identify points of agreement and work from these points first and then identify the points of disagreement. ("I agree with you that it seems like no one else restocks the copier but you. But at least we can rely on you.")

STAGE TWO - Challenges Requiring "Win-Lose" Results

Characteristics and clues of Stage Two

You must LISTEN FOR these clues:

•Words are in the past tense ("This copier never has paper in it! It's always empty!")
•Comments are focused on "human" topics (machinery maintenance person, weather man, traffic - a particular driver, the "system [computers service people, the organizational culture - a particular person within it, procedures - a particular person who doesn't follow them]" etc. "I hate people who can't even restock a copier run they run it out of paper!")
•More focus on who caused the problem - or allowed it to happen - than a solution ("The copier on this floor needs paper. Who is supposed to keep it full?")

Important considerations for Stage Two:

•Coping strategies DO NOT WORK because people are the problem and the conflicts do not go away.
•Self-interest is very important. "CYA" ('Cover Your Assets') is a survival strategy.
•People take sides, take notes, and keep score. Alliances and cliques may form. A "us" vs. "them" mentality develops.
•Discussion of issues and answers are futile because participants and the problem have become too closely entangled. (Similar to a heated political discussion.)
•Participants deal in terms that are more general. You will hear about the phantom "them" and comments as "everyone thinks...", "always..." and "never" increase in frequency. Each side is reluctant to provide facts without asking, "How will you use this information?"

Ways to Handle Stage Two Conflict

•Create a safe environment to discuss the situation which includes:

a) Make the setting informal

b) Establish neutral turf

c) Have an agenda so there is focus on an outcome

•Be hard on facts, soft on people. Take time to get every detail. Clarify generalizations. Who, by name, are "they"? Are you sure that "always" or "never" is accurate?
•Do not let the participants sit across from each other. Arrange to get them sitting beside each other across from you. (Sitting across from each other so they make eye contact can start it all again.)
•Focus on points of agreement to find a middle ground. Do not suggest that each side "concedes" something because that implies "giving in". Rather, suggest a "trade". "Do you agree this bickering is becoming an aggravation for the two of you? If so, maybe we can work a way to resolve this. Sam, would you be willing to trade proof-reading of your work before you give it to Sue if she will stop making comments about your work quality?"
•Take as much time as necessary to reach agreement without forcing concessions or issues.
•Avoid voting to resolve issues because that leads to a "win - lose" result. (The only way to avoid having hurt feelings by voting is if you are assured of a unanimous decision before you begin!)

STAGE THREE- Eliminating the "Enemy"

Characteristics and Clues of Stage 3

•The motivation is to "get rid" of the opponent, not just win. Being right and punishing wrong become consuming goals.
•The competing parties identify "insiders" and "outsiders". "You are either with me or against me!"
•Leaders emerge from the group to act as representatives.
•You equate your position as doing "what's good for the organization! ["I have to fire you for the good of the organization".]"
•Specific causes of the problem get lost in the emotion. Many newly recruited team members may not know the origins of the conflict.

Ways to Handle Stage Three Conflict

•An outside intervention agent or team (a neutral person or department) is required as a mediator so neither side feels this third party favors the other.
•Details are critical to a thorough understanding of the situation by the mediator.
•You must allow sufficient time to get a true picture of both sides of the case.
•The mediator can ask each side to present their case (without comment from the other) and identify the results they would like to achieve in this process.
•The mediator puts the responsibility on the two teams to find areas of common agreement or trade in search for an agreement.
•Not every participant on both teams may be at Stage 3. Try to break off members at lower stages and redirect their energies away from this situation.