One of my students recently asked me, “How do you effectively manage conflict in the workplace?”. I paused for a moment to consider how to respond.
Conflict arises for many reasons; failure to communicate, differences in communication styles, personalities, values, ideas, opinions, experiences, strengths and competition. Innately, we have underlying expectations of how people should respond and interact with us. When those around us don’t treat us as we deem appropriate, our feathers get ruffled. Over time, this angst will grow, and it may begin to feel personal regardless of their intent. As a leader, if you don’t define what your team is supposed to do, and ensure they understand it, they will inevitably be unable to meet your expectations. According to the Gallup Organization, 50% of employees don’t know what is expected of them at work. This, in itself, can cause adversarial relationships. If the air doesn’t get cleared and the conflict isn’t managed properly, a leader risks the costly mistake of disengaging their team.
Why are so many leaders reluctant to give constructive feedback? With emotions in the mix, the situation can make us feel uncomfortable and uncertain. We want to respect and support their feelings, not hurt or offend them to the point it escalates to resentment. This can breed bad energy that can intoxicate a team and ruin relationships! Facing this type of situation head-on makes most people squirm. Leaders often feel that it’s safer to say nothing at all. It’s easier to let the person be and hope they have an epiphany of how their behavior impacts others. This mindset is dangerous because most people are oblivious to their own actions and are rarely empathetic. If we could see our own blind spots, there would be little need to learn how to address conflict because we could proactively change our behavior!
So, what’s the root of the problem? Communication. It’s a main cause for relationship breakdowns. How we communicate is just as important as what we communicate. And if we don’t communicate at all, that sends an even louder message! Think about it, how many of us have walked away from an argument because the other person wasn’t listening or truly hearing what we were saying? If we don’t have the skills to convey a simple message, it’s a challenge to find any immediate understanding or resolution to the issue at hand.
As we begin to constructively resolve a conflict, it’s important to realize that it takes a combination of skills and delivery. A leader must have a keen sense of awareness of their team and be able to recognize the signs that constructive feedback is needed. Some of those may include;persistent unresolved problems, reduced productivity and mistakes being made consistently, questions being asked on the basic tasks, inquiring about their performance or, perhaps, it’s the growing behavioral issues among the team. While these are just a few red flags, there are many more. An effective leader recognizes the need for feedback and addresses it successfully.
Below are eight key considerations to make as you prepare for a constructive feedback meeting. After all, if you can predict it, you can prepare for it.
- Determine the Location and Time
Choose a location that will be private with no interruptions. Plan to have the meeting at a mutually good time when both parties can concentrate. If you are scattered it will come across incorrectly and may leave the other person feeling like an afterthought.
- Open the Meeting
Be sure to open the meeting with confidence and a neutral tone.
- Discuss the Opportunities
Discuss the opportunities for growth and development for your team member. Really take the time to consider what’s in it for them. Also, take the time to understand their goals as you navigate your meeting. Be sure that they are creating their own measurable action steps to reach their milestones.
- State the Facts
Share the facts as you understand them. Objective delivery is key. Be clear and direct with your message.
- Describe the Observed Behavior
Focus on the behavior, not the person. The behavior may be terrible, but it doesn’t mean the person is terrible. Describe the impact their behavior has on the team, customers and organization. Be careful not to weaponize your feedback. Use selective and supporting words like, “I am concerned with…” versus “you are never…” Make sure you have anecdotal evidence or data to explain the things that need to change. This will help your employee better understand exactly what went wrong.
- Be Open to Feedback
If you have a feedback meeting, you must be prepared to ask for their feedback as well. By giving them an opportunity to respond, you show that you care about how it impacts them. It allows them to be heard and share what they heard you say. What you said may not be how they heard you. Remember, our experiences in life sometimes alter what we hear. This will allow you to clarify, if needed, to ensure they understand the true issue.
- Discuss the Next Steps
They must commit to what they will do to change the behavior. Stay focused on the future and how they can change by providing support (training, coaching, reading, etc.). If you don’t know them well, ask them how you can support them.
Set a future date to check-in. You are accountable to them just as much as they are accountable to you.
When constructive feedback is given successfully, it can have a profound effect on the engagement of a person and their team. This is one of the crucial skills that defines a good leader. Despite how difficult and time consuming this process may be, it is the cornerstone for employee retention. Leaders can hire a good worker, but great employees are built from mentorship.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin