Reducing Conflict 78 Didn’t You Read My Email?

January 29, 2023

When someone says, “Didn’t you read my email?”  there can be many reasons for it. Many times it is the fault of the sender. In this article, I will describe the typical reasons why conflict arises from poor email communication.

Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys. Habitually, communication has been a major source of conflict in organizations.  Even though communication tools have morphed into all kinds of wonderful remote technologies, the problem is still there. It is even worse today. Many people tend to rely too much on electronic means to communicate information.

The sad truth is that many people put information in an e-mail and honestly believe they have communicated to others. Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex e-mails

Managers who put out long emails believe that the employees read every word and absorb all the points.  Hogwash!  If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic.

If an email is 3 pages long, I suspect not 1 in 10 people are going to internalize the meaning. In fact, when most people open a note, they quickly scan to the bottom to see how long it is. If the text goes “over the horizon” beyond the first page, they close the note. They will either delete the note without reading it or leave it in the inbox for a more convenient time.

Naturally, a more convenient time does not surface, so the note is allowed to mold in the inbox. Eventually, it is thrown out in some kind of purge when the stench becomes too much to bear.

You must augment email messages with verbal enhancements

The written email should contain simply an outline of the salient points.  Reinforce the key points in other forms of communication.  Use other remote or face-to-face methods. This would also include the opportunity for personal involvement or at least dialog, so people can ponder the meaning and impact. Questions for clarification will enhance understanding.

Give people the opportunity to absorb your meaning fully.

Formatting is really important if you want people to read your email

E-mail notes should be as short and easy to digest as possible. Aim to have the message internalized at a glance and with only 15-30 seconds of attention. Contrast the two notes below to see which one you would understand.

Example of a poorly formatted and wordy email: 

“I wanted to inform you all that the financial trend for this quarter is not looking good. In order to meet our goals, I believe we must enhance our sales push, especially in the South East Region and in the West.  Those two regions are lagging behind at the moment, but I am sure we can catch up before the end of the quarter.  Let’s increase the advertising in the local paper so that we get more buzz about the new product. The increased exposure will help now and also in the next quarter. Advertising has a way of building up sales equity. Also, I am canceling our monthly meeting at headquarters. This decision will keep the sales force in the field as much as possible. You can give your full attention to making customer calls. I am available to travel to the regions next week if you would like to have me meet face-to-face with your customers. I look forward to celebrating a great success when we have our Fall Sales Meeting. Thank you very much for your extra effort at this critical time for our company…  Jake Alsop”

An improved format that people will read

“Let’s look forward to celebrating success at the Fall Sales Meeting.  We are currently behind the pace (particularly in the South East and Western regions).  I am asking for the following:

  • Increase newspaper advertising to improve exposure
  • Stay in the field this month; we will skip the monthly meeting
  • Request my help with customer presentations if you want it

Thanks…Jake”

People will be more likely to read and understand the second note.  When the sales force opens up the first note, they would see an unformatted block of text that is a burden to wade through. There are no paragraph breaks to give the eyes a rest between concepts. It contains several instructions amid redundant platitudes and drivel.

People can internalize the second note in a glance. It would be far more likely to produce results. Note the use of bullets eliminates wordy construction.

Summary

Use the “Golden Rule” for writing e-mails: “Write notes that you would enjoy receiving.” Utilize many different forms of communication rather than relying on just email.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 

 


Reducing Conflict 77 Positive Conflict

January 23, 2023

I believe there is such a thing as “positive conflict?” Most of the time we consider conflict as a bad thing.  Let’s examine the conditions and results when we consider the positive side of conflict.

When conflict occurs

One root of conflict is when individuals have differing opinions on a specific topic. I dig in my heels and try to prove my viewpoint is right and yours is wrong. You fire back with the same zeal supporting your opinion. There may be several people involved and we end up with group conflict. The conversation devolves into rancor where people actually fight for their opinion.

The topic of conflict is so common that we almost expect to see it every day.  Now, what if we modify the thinking process just a bit?

Positive conflict offers more opportunities for creative solutions

Set aside all the rancor and put the issues side by side. Then, we may see a third opinion that turns out to help everybody. We can turn the equation around and focus on the good things with each position. Then we enter a more constructive thought pattern.

Positive conflict starts by asking what’s right with the opposing view

It takes some courage to verbalize what is right about your opponent’s outlook, but it reduces the rancor. It might even open the door for the other person to expound on the benefits of your solution.  This kind of “role reversal” can help clear the air. Some combination of both sides might emerge as a brilliant solution. At least you are less likely to have a fistfight.

In times of remote or hybrid work arrangements, the polarization of ideas is more prevalent.  People do not always have the benefit of observing the body language of others with differing views.  That factor makes it more difficult to envision possible creative solutions or even make people want to cooperate.

The role of a mediator in creating positive conflict

Since conflict is so pervasive in our society, it really helps to have some people who are excellent mediators. These people can see the escalating conflict brewing.  It is more difficult for the proponents of each side to see conflict when they are immersed in it. They may not even be communicating face to face. When working remotely, it is easy to ignore the benefits of a more constructive dialog. The mediator steps in and asks if there might be a more helpful way to articulate the disagreement.

It is beneficial to nurture the role of a mediator and reward the people who fill it. You might find a particular individual who is outstanding in this role. It also is helpful for the entire population to witness a breakthrough as a result of keeping open minds. Once people see the benefits it is a lot easier to suggest the technique during a future tangle.

Positive conflict relies on people treating others with dignity. Team building and encouraging a culture of trust help create the right environment. People must care about other people. Sometimes they may need help feeling like they are part of the group. This is especially important when people are working remotely.

Conclusion

Human beings have a way of driving each other crazy.  If we can keep calm and recognize there are wonderful solutions, then we can use positive conflict well. Doing so not only supports the best position, it also leaves the people feeling better about each other. A happier workplace also has another big advantage: higher productivity.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 


Reducing Conflict 76 Peer Conflict

January 16, 2023

Peer conflict within your organization can squander the energy and creativity of your team. Nobody enjoys conflict, but often the actions of some people kindle internal battles they could avoid.

Where is energy being consumed?

Measure where the energy in your organization is consumed. Most of it may be evaporating with internal squabbles. It should be applied toward customer satisfaction or beating the competition.

Peer relationships are especially prone to conflict

Conflict among peers is particularly hurtful. People who function in parallel roles must cooperate for the organization to achieve its goals. Lower peer conflict means more resources directed at the organization’s goals.

Why does peer conflict occur, and how can we reduce it? Peers see themselves in a conflict situation from the start, especially if they report to different units.

Too much “I win, you lose” mentality

Loyalty to one’s own parochial point of view often means a built-in conflict among individuals. In the scramble for scarce resources, peers struggle to gain the lion’s share for themselves. This “I win, you lose” mentality is the fuel for the fire of peer conflict. You can improve the track record within your organization by practicing some simple concepts.

The ideas listed below are not a set of underhanded tricks or manipulation of others. Rather, these concepts help define the high road to interpersonal prowess. Following them shows your level of integrity, maturity, and moral fiber. Do these things because they are right, not to come out on top. They represent the causeway to peer cooperation.

A dozen ways to improve peer cooperation

  1. Treat your peers and superiors with respect and integrity. Often that is a challenge because you compete with them for critical resources. The best advice is to always use the golden rule.
  2. Find ways to help peers in ways they recognize. Visualize yourself walking around the office with a bundle of olive branches strapped to your back. Each day, see how many olive branches you can give away to people who would normally squabble with you.
  3. Whenever possible, be a vocal supporter of your peer’s position in meetings. If you act like an ally, it is more difficult for peers to view you as an adversary. If you think of them as the enemy, they will reciprocate.
  4. Go the extra mile to help peers solve problems. Sometimes that means taking problem people off their hands to make a fresh start in your organization. It might mean the loan of equipment or other tangible assets. Be bountiful with your assistance. Favors lead to goodwill and often result in returned favors.
  5. Bond with peers whenever possible in social settings. This is more difficult in hybrid situations. Get to know their families and their hobbies. The closer you are as friends, the more they will help you at work. The basis of politics is that “friends do things for other friends.”
  6. Often, you will negotiate with peers for resources. Establish a track record of being fair and looking for win-win opportunities. Never try to win at the other person’s expense. It will usually boomerang, and you will lose in the end.
  7. Be visible with your concessions. Demonstrate that you deal with fairness.
  8. Resist the temptation to “blow in” a peer after a mistake. It may feel good at the time, but you have made an enemy. You can never afford an enemy if it can be avoided, and it usually can. Some people go around creating enemies to satisfy their ego, their lust for conquest, or just to have fun. They don’t last very long, and they create a lot of damage for others to clean up. If a peer makes a mistake, it is a great opportunity to help him or her regain equilibrium, not a time to twist the knife. Kindness pays off.
  9. Do not engage in email battles. If a peer is less than kind in an email, respond to it with courtesy and maturity. Getting into a public food fight over some issue has no place in the adult world, yet we see it all the time. Be bigger than that.
  10. Don’t belittle, berate, or embarrass people, even if they do things to deserve it. This is a test of your maturity.
  11. When you create a political faux pas, admit it immediately and ask for forgiveness. Don’t try to hide your blunders. People who admit mistakes earn the respect of their peers. Those who try to cover up gaffs often appear duplicitous and lower their credibility.
  12. Offer help when your peer is in a crisis. We all need help from time to time, and we remember those who were gracious with their assistance.

There are hundreds of other ways to foster cooperation among your peers and superiors. They are just common sense. They reiterate the advice of the famous football coach Lou Holtz: “Do what is right.” Doing the right thing is about being authentic rather than manipulative. Sparring and counterpunches should be focused on the competition rather than on your valued teammates.

Conclusion

When peers can rise above the temptation to be parochial, it allows the greater good to happen. Reducing conflict and tension makes people enjoy their work more. It also allows them to focus more energy on activities critical to organizational health.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

 


Reducing Conflict 75 Know Your Conflict Level

January 8, 2023

Your conflict level is an interesting topic to explore. You may be experiencing conflict at a high degree and not even realize it is going on.  Additionally, you may have feelings of being inadequate or fatigued and not recognize the source of those feelings. Conversely, you may whistle a happy tune and walk on clouds outwardly, while you are seething inside.

I think someone should invent a kind of tape we could each put on our forehead.  It would turn different colors depending on the level of conflict we are experiencing.  In times of low stress and conflict, the tape would appear blue or green.  As things began to annoy us, the tape would turn orange or yellow.  In times of high conflict, the tape would turn red with rage.

The color of the patch reflects your conflict level

Any time you want to understand your emotions, all you need to do is look in the mirror. Your forehead would contain information on how you are feeling.  If you do not have such an invention, how else can you know your level of unrest?

Other ways to know your conflict level

The dilation of your pupils will be greater when you are under high stress, but you cannot track the dilation without a mirror. If your blinking rate goes way up for some reason, the likely culprit is high stress or conflict.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to monitor your blinking rate unless you devote a lot of energy to the chore.

You may be squinting and the sun is not in your eyes. It may mean you are trying to decide how much conflict you are willing to tolerate. If your eyes are super-wide-open, it is probably a sign of extreme annoyance. You have to be careful because wide-open eyes can also be a sign of surprise.

When trying to figure out a person’s mood using body language, look for clusters. One signal may mean different things when put into context. 

Check your jaw

Clenched teeth usually means that something is amiss. The stronger the clench the higher the stress. If you end up with aching teeth, check if you have been clenching all day without realizing it.

Usually, conflict between you and other people is evident by your body language.  You also need to be alert to the body language other people send you.

Watch for a change in body language another person has with you

You can gain a lot of insight by noticing a shift in body language another person exhibits toward you. For example, let’s say the other person has been using hand gestures with palms up and open. All of a sudden, you notice the hands are closed and in a fist position. Something has just happened that signals conflict with you in the other person’s mind.  

Another signal might occur with sitting position.  Let’s say the other person is sitting with legs crossed and leaning backward in a relaxed position. You bring up a delicate topic in the conversation. All of a sudden, the other person drops both feet to the floor and sits up straight. That is a sure sign of a changing condition. You have likely annoyed or created fear in the other person with your comment.

Tone of voice can also signal a change in conflict level

Suppose you are having a general conversation with another employee in the break room. The conversation is natural with no signs of a strain. You mention your support for a new policy and notice the tone of the other person immediately goes up.  Be alert that you may have crossed the line into conflict. The other employee may not agree with the new policy.

Conclusion

We do not have tape on our forehead to indicate the conflict level. We do exhibit conflict in numerous ways with our body language and tone of voice. Learn to watch for these signals in daily interactions.  You will be able to lower the conflict level in your life.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 74 Reflective Listening

January 1, 2023

Some of the conflict we experience in our lives can be cured by practicing reflective listening. When we experience conflict with another person, we compromise our ability to communicate accurately. That’s because when we believe we are listening, we direct most of our energy on preparing to speak. For critical issues, it is best to make sure you understand before ensuring you are understood.

Reflective Listening takes us to higher understanding

When we practice reflective listening techniques, we have the ability to absorb more of what the other person is telling us. The method is fairly easy to master, but you need to remember to use it. You must also use it with skill. That is the trick.

Reflective listening consists of four parts

First, you must attend to the other person.  That means getting rid of all distractions and paying attention to the person. That may sound easy, but for many people attending is the hardest part. 

I once had a boss who had a nasty habit whenever the conversation took on a serious tone.  He would reach into his pocket and pull out a small pocket knife. He would open the blade and begin to clean his fingernails right in front of me. That is not attending.

For many people, the cell phone is a major distraction that prevents full attending. You cannot listen with full attention when you are texting another person. Put the phone down and stop thinking about it.

Use “following” skills to show you are attending. These skills are body language cues that indicate you are paying attention.  These include some hand gestures, eye contact, blinking rate, head tilting, head nodding, and other ways to show attention.

The second part is to listen with high intensity.  The skill here is to focus on what the other person is saying. Avoid occupying your mind trying to figure out when you can break into the conversation.  Try to not make up your rebuttal when you are listening to the other person.

To help me remember this part, I use a mental image of wearing my “listening hat.” That is a three-cornered imaginary hat that I put on to concentrate on what I am hearing.

The third part requires skill and discipline.  It is the reflection phase of the conversation. In this phase, you artfully insert reflections of what you are hearing the other person say. The reflection may come out as a question. It might sound like this,  “was that frustrating for you?” It could just be an affirmation like, “that sounds depressing.”  It might be a compliment, “congratulations on rising above the pain.” It could take the form of an expression like, “no way.”

The tricky part about the reflection phase is to do it artfully. Artfully means do not overdo the reflections. Let them come out naturally and avoid parroting back the exact words you are hearing. If you administer the reflection phase with a heavy hand, you will annoy the other person.

The final phase of reflective listening is to repeat the process. When the point is taken and it is time to move on to a different part of the conflict, that is no time to quit. Mentally pat yourself on the shoulder and start focusing on the next part of the story.

When to use reflective listening

A key point here is that reflective listening takes much more energy than casual listening.  You cannot possibly use the technique for all conversations. 

If you are chatting about the weather with a friend or deciding where to have lunch, use normal listening. Save your intense listening skills for conversations that have high impact. A good indicator of when to use reflective listening is when the topic is highly emotional.

When either you or the other person is experiencing a peak emotional period, it is time to put on your listening hat. Use reflective listening to capture the true meaning in the conversation.

What to do with a motor mouth

Some people will ramble on as long as you let them. It can be frustrating to never get the chance to break into the conversation.  In those cases, you might say something like this. “I have been listening to you carefully. I think you make some good points that I was not considering.  I would love to share an alternate point of view that amplifies your points if you are interested.” If the other person just pontificates and then walks away, you have to let them go.

More than two people

If more than two people are discussing and you are moderating the conversation, you need to direct traffic. Allow each person time to share his or her thoughts. Go for fairness in this case, and suggest approximately equal air time. Often a creative solution will emerge out of considering multiple viewpoints.

Conclusion

You can benefit from the ideas in this article because they can reduce the level of conflict in your life.   Try them out, especially in uncomfortable conversations, and enhance the quality of your relationships.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 73 Microaggressions

December 25, 2022

The topic of microaggressions is a recent addition to the lexicon of terms that describe dysfunction within organizations. Last week, I attended a program on microaggressions given by Sady Alvarado-Fischer CDP. She is Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Microaggressions defined

Sady defines microaggressions as follows:  A microaggression is an everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slight that snubs target people. Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional. They communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target people. These slights are based solely on their marginalized group membership.

Spooky business

The spooky thing about microaggressions is that unless you are doing it intentionally (consciously) you do not recognize it when you are making one. You say something or make a gesture and have no idea that you are offending another person. You might draw a response if the dis is particularly egregious, but most of the time you are blissfully unaware of what you did.

Let’s share some examples of potential microaggressions and describe why they might be offensive to another person.

Examples

You walk into a room that has eight of your team members present.  You say “Hi guys.”  The problem is that three of the people there are females. One or more of the females might be offended by the term “guys.”

You take your two adopted children to a doctor’s appointment.  The receptionist can see immediately that the children are of another race. She asks, “are those really your children?” You say, “yes they are,” and the receptionist gives you a dirty look.

You meet a man for the first time who says his name is Daniel.  Later in the conversation, you refer to him as Dan.  He corrects you that his real name is Daniel. You put Daniel in a difficult spot by assuming Dan would work just as well.

Microaggressions have the impact of excluding people

If we strive for an inclusive environment, we need to be alert for potential microaggressions. People will feel awkward about bringing forth their reasons for wanting to be addressed a certain way.

The antidote here is to have a culture of trust where there is no fear about bringing up preferences.  Everyone in your organization must know they will not be punished for sharing their true feelings. That environment will have very few problems with microaggressions.

Be alert for body language

You can often pick up a shift in body language when you make a microaggression on another individual.  Sometimes there is a change in facial expression.  It might take the form of the other person turning away from you a slight bit.

If you sense that something you have said or done has made the other person uncomfortable, check it out with the person. You can do this in a polite way that has the effect of repairing some of the damage you caused.  It also will strengthen the relationship going forward.  

Summary

Microaggressions are around us every day, and we rarely get specific information about how we are dissing other people. Keep that potential in mind and be alert for the signs you see coming back.  You can enhance your track record going forward.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 72 When Conflict Boils Over

December 18, 2022

Sometimes routine conflict boils over and becomes a major problem in an organization or family. A certain amount of stress is going to be present in any group of people.  Most of the time you can operate normally while this routine conflict is going on.

What causes Conflict to boil over?

There are many different causes for conflict to reach an acute stage.  The typical reason is that the routine level of conflict is not being addressed, so it escalates. The ensuing blow-up can be dangerous to the people involved and result in sabotage or even homicide.

Get professional help

It is common for supervisors or managers to attempt to calm down angry people on their teams.  Mediation is a critical skill for any manager. When things get to a certain level of rancor, it is time to call in professional help to separate the parties and restore order. 

In fact, the supervisor may be the root cause of the problem getting out of control.  When the symptoms of conflict are ignored or pushed aside, that is when individuals get a sense of hopelessness. That condition leads certain individuals to take things into their own hands.

The tricky part is determining when to call in extra help.  That’s because each individual has a different boiling point. It is not obvious when a person has reached the limit. It may not even be obvious to the individuals involved to tell when they are out of control.

Similar to a cooking disaster

Anger and its consequences have a way of sneaking up on people. This condition is similar to a pot of water on a stove.  You may observe the water boiling fast and think it will be all right.  The next second there is water all over the place.

Experience teaches us to intervene before the water level starts to rise. We need to get the pot off the heat and stir the liquid to keep it from boiling over.  In order to do that, we need to be paying attention. If we are distracted during the process, even only briefly, we can be in for a rude awakening. 

Managers need to pay attention too

The phenomenon with people boiling over is the same thing. If the manager is occupied elsewhere and does not see the water rising, an accident is about to happen. That is why it is imperative for managers to know their people.

If you recognize that one person has a lower boiling point than others in the group, it is possible to intervene in time. Let’s look at a few common examples of conflict and discuss the warning signs managers need to watch for.

Social loafing

When some people feel they are doing more than their fair share of the work, trouble is brewing. This phenomenon is called social loafing, and it is one of the most common sources of conflict. One person feels abused because others are causing him to do more than is fair. Resentment builds up until it reaches the breaking point.  The antidote is to listen to all people carefully. Be alert for the word “unfair,” and investigate thoroughly when you hear it.

Hogging resources

In the workplace, resources are spread thin to be as cost effective as possible. Resources allow the work to be performed easier. People are always hungry for more resources. If someone grabs a couple extra pairs of gloves, it can cause other people to blow up. Make sure when you provide access to any kind of resource, you are doing it fairly.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the typical sources of conflict. The best antidote is to be alert for the signs of a struggle. Take corrective action early, before the pot boils over. Most people have a constant stream of tension going on at work and at home. Usually, the tension is manageable, but sometimes it will flare up.  The job of the manager is to intervene early enough to avoid an explosion.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 71 Impending Conflict

December 11, 2022

If you know what to look for you can spot the signs of impending conflict. That skill is helpful because you may be able to prevent open conflict from erupting. This article looks at several signs of possible conflict and offers some ideas on how to react to them.

Signs of becoming fed up

Watch the body language of individuals. When they start moving their arms more than usual, it is a good sign that an argument is coming.  You may also notice a clenched jaw. Look for a pronounced bulge of the jaw muscle. Also, a furrowed brow will signal displeasure and likely some impending conflict.

If you can get the other person to verbalize his or her feelings it may have the impact of letting frustration out and avoiding direct conflict. Say something like, “You look a little upset, is anything bugging you?” Recognize that the question may potentially annoy the person further.  Be alert to that possibility and back off if the person does not want to talk.

Pointing can mean impending conflict

Pointing is a very hostile form of body language.  If you see two people in a heated discussion and pointing at each other, that is a dead giveaway.  Intervene and see if you can get the individuals to talk about the issues. If someone is addressing you and doing a lot of pointing, you need to calm the person down.  Use mediation techniques to find out what is bugging the individual.

Talking at the same time

When conflict is near, people tend to talk over each other.  Obviously when you are talking you cannot listen well. Try to get the individuals to slow down and listen carefully to the other person. Sometimes reversing the roles can be useful here.  If you can state the other person’s point of view accurately, then you have listened well.

People avoiding each other

You know conflict is near when people refuse to be in the same room as their opponent. It can get so extreme that when one person enters a room another person gets up and walks out. If you see that kind of behavior you need to intervene soon because the situation has become acute. Often the impending conflict is a group-based phenomenon.

Cliques forming

Conflict between groups is very common in most organizations.  Look for cliques of three or more people circling the wagons on a specific issue.  You may notice a lot of “we versus they” type of language being used. This symptom is especially evident in email notes. It might look like this, “we wanted to re-check the parts, but they assumed the parts were good.”

Work to reduce conflict between the groups. Often it helps to remind them that at the next higher level they are on the same team.

Higher than normal stress

When conflict is present, people are expending significant energy trying to win the day or maybe just protect themselves. If the conflict is prolonged, it really saps the energy of the groups.  In this case, it often helps to mix a little fun into the equation.  Give people a mental break, away from the constant mind-numbing posturing.  You might try doing some short form of exercise or breathing practice if the people are up to it.  Don’t force anything, but offer some ideas to consider. 

Low trust

When people are in conflict, a root cause is often a lack of trust.  You might test for this with a trust survey or some coaching on how to build higher trust. There are numerous techniques to raise the trust level between people. You might suggest to work some of the methods into your next meeting.  

Summary

Conflict within groups is a fact of life.  Recognize that people who are annoyed will have different reactions to suggested ways to help. Be alert for signs that your efforts to help may be increasing the conflict. You may be able to overt some of the dysfunctional behaviors.  

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 70 Conflict Between Layers

December 4, 2022

Sometimes conflict can arise between the layers of an organization. This article will pick apart the root cause of this problem and offer some solutions. The perspective on issues and decisions is different depending on the layer where you are.

Let’s take a specific example and describe the likely perspective of four different layers. The Quality Manager has decided to hold off on the introduction of a new product. There have been some quality issues in the first batches of the product. The origin appears to be poor quality of incoming material. There is a risk of loss of market share if defective product gets out.

View from the top layer

The president and VP of Marketing aren’t thrilled with the decision to hold off.  They have been touting the new product for several months. They expect that this product will greatly enhance the competitive position of the company. Any delay in introduction will hinder the anticipated competitive advantage.  The company can prevent defective product from reaching customers by temporarily adding an inspection function to remove defects.

This approach protects the reputation of the organization while allowing the new product to get a toe hold in the market. The president orders the Quality Manager to release the product to manufacturing.

View from the middle layer

The Quality Manager is furious over the decision to release product for sale.  There may be other issues not yet seen, and putting out defective product is too great a risk to the overall program.  The Manufacturing Manager is unhappy as well.  She quotes the famous Quality Guru, W. Edwards Deming that, “You cannot inspect quality into a product.”

View from the Engineers

The engineers are concerned, because they realize the pressure on them to resolve the issue is going to increase. They would rather put more pressure on the suppliers to figure out the problem and correct it. Engineers and technicians have been spending too much time on the road working with the suppliers. The travel time causes neglect on critical work at home on other issues.

View from Production Supervisor

The production supervisor does not have the resources to inspect each unit of product before shipment.  The problem requires special equipment and a lot of time to detect. He is going to need more people and equipment to try and stop defective product from escaping.  On the other hand, he realizes the pressure on his crews for perfect product is going to increase.

How to proceed between layers

There is no one solution that is going to please all of the layers. The best approach is to have a meeting where all groups can give their perspective.  Then the group needs to go back to their core values to determine the best course of action. Once they reach a  compromise, then all groups have to support it.

Conclusion

It is easy to see how each group has a different perspective on the original problem. Sending vitriolic emails between the layers is not going to resolve the problem. By going back to the values, the organization can identify the most helpful action.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 69 Repeated Conflict

November 27, 2022

Conflict in an organization can take many forms. It can be a one-off type, or it can be repeated conflict. Also, repeated conflict can be between two or more specific individuals or between groups.

All of these types of situations are challenging, but conflict between groups is the most difficult to solve. This article describes the most helpful tools I have found to deal with these categories of conflict.

Repeated conflict between individuals

In this case, the conflict is limited to a problem between two people. It may be caused by a misunderstanding, or it could be a power struggle. More than one bout of conflict between individuals calls for some form of coaching. A third party can act as a mediator to help resolve specific issues.  Look for and resolve the underlying cause.

Often some form of individual training is helpful to prevent future flare-ups. If the root cause is jealousy, you need to establish what has to change to prevent future conflict.  Get the individuals together and brainstorm what needs to change. Stress the benefits of a more cordial relationship.

Repeated conflict between groups

If the conflict is between groups or cliques of people, the issue is more serious. There are several people involved in each of the warring groups, so the collateral damage is bigger. You may find that the leaders of both groups are encouraging conflict with inflammatory language. 

For sure, a lack of trust will exist between the groups.  Often, they have forgotten that they are subgroups that are really on the same team. One helpful approach is to remind the groups that they share a common goal at a higher level. They are really on the same team with different roles.  Stress that expending energy fighting with a different subgroup compromises the performance of the whole.

Teambuilding is often the answer

Getting groups that fight all the time to play nicely and appreciate each other is a challenge. One technique that worked for me in a couple situations was to swap some members of the groups that are fighting.  When it becomes difficult to tell which group is which, the walls of suspicion come down. You need to approach this technique delicately, because a heavy hand will often lead to a revolt. Try a philosophy of cross-training to increase bench strength in the larger unit.

I recall two groups of engineers in my area were having all kinds of problems working together.  They were operating as fiefdoms that were encouraged by their respective leaders. When I convinced a couple of people to swap roles, the problems subsided quickly. It was a difficult sell at first. I reminded the individuals that a variety of experiences would make them more attractive candidates for future promotions.

You can do some form of classical team building if the groups are willing to participate. There are numerous techniques and many consultants that specialize in experiential team building.  Some examples of activities include maze games, scavenger hunts, solving word problems, trust falls, and hundreds of other exercises. These activities force people to interact together and then debrief what they learned.

You are working on building higher trust within the combined group. Talk to people in the different groups to understand the specific nature of their problems. Often times this detective work provides information to an elegant solution.

Do not do this work with a focus on the individual cliques. That approach will likely exacerbate the problem by making the cliques stronger. Work with the combined groups.

There may be a situation where one person causes havoc in both teams.  Consider a different role for this individual. Many times changing a single individual can resolve years of acrimony.

Make sure to work on the underlying cause

It is tempting when dealing with conflict to go in and find out the current problem. Then you work to eliminate the problem and think everything will be fine.  If you haven’t resolved the underlying cause of the conflict, it will inevitably come back in a different issue. Always seek to improve the level of mutual trust. That is the most direct route to resolving repeated conflict.

Conclusion

Solving repeated conflict can be a challenge. If you go at it with resolve and get some help when needed, you can make substantial progress. Don’t forget to praise activities that show progress in working together.  Positive reinforcement will amplify the constructive relationships.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.