Oh, I don’t really mean you, of course. I don’t expect anyone to fess up to being an overbearing SOB. But it’s a good bet you know plenty of other people who fit the description, right? And, just maybe, if you’re really willing to take a long, serious look at yourself … well, let’s just focus on all those other people for now.
Oh, I don’t really mean you, of course. I don’t
expect anyone to fess up to being an overbearing SOB. But it’s a good bet you know
plenty of other people who fit the description, right? And, just maybe, if
you’re really willing to take a long, serious look at yourself … well, let’s just focus on
all those other people for now.
They appear in all walks of life, but probably a bit more in the construction
trades than elsewhere because, heck, yours is an industry celebrated for its
tough, macho image. An almost palpable swagger can be detected on construction
jobsites testifying to the hard work and hazardous conditions people endure for
a paycheck. And doesn’t it seem like most construction foremen would make great
Problem is, gruff techniques don’t work so well with a modern, PC-indoctrinated
workforce. And especially not with skilled craft workers, or on jobsites that
increasingly may include a woman or two. So take a little quiz to find out if
you-uh, we mean perhaps other persons in your organization-might be causing
conflict with customers, employees or management on a regular basis. Answer the
following yes or no.
You’ve worked damned hard your entire life to get to the position of authority
you now hold so dear, so it’s “my way or the highway.”
You seldom get feedback from others about business issues of
You’re the only one in your organization who really knows what’s going
Sometimes it’s more difficult or costs you time and money to do things your
way, but because of #3, it’s well worth it.
You’re not getting the results you hoped for, but it’s not your
Recognize any of these self-realizations? If you answered yes, to any of them,
and especially if you answered yes to more than one, it might be time for some
Conflicts routinely arise in businesses large and small, between supervisors
and subordinates or between co-workers. Some business management studies have
shown that managers spend as much as 60 performance of their time resolving
conflicts. Moreover, bickering can get out of hand to the point where
co-workers are reluctant to communicate. They may withhold information needed
for a smoothly running job or, even worse, tensions can get to the point where
one party deliberately or subconsciously does things that will sabotage
Years ago, I attended a labor relations conference where a union business
manager and executive director of a mechanical contractors association jointly
told of having so much animosity toward each other that they underwent
third-party conflict resolution counseling so they could do necessary business
together. The counseling helped forge a relationship so amicable they felt
comfortable getting up together in front of an audience to discuss their past
problems. I was impressed.
So I did some research on this subject and was able to extract some insights
and pointers that might be relevant to your business.
One of the most important concepts that all the texts seem to mention is that
conflict in itself is natural and not necessarily bad. If conflict never arises
in your company, it means either: 1. You have the nicest people in the world
working for you; or, more likely, 2. They are a bunch of passive drones who
don’t care enough about their work to complain when something doesn’t go right.
What counts is how conflict gets handled.
Stripped of academic jargon, conflict resolution boils down to communication
and seeing things from the other party’s point of view. Most resolutions come
about from talking things through-or when, like an alcoholic admitting his
problem, an overbearing SOB realizes the error of his/her ways and resolves to
WHEN YOU ARE IN CONFLICT
In cases where you are a party to the conflict, here are some steps you can
take to reach resolution.
Treat the other party with respect. This can be a challenge, especially when
personal animosity does exist. If that’s the case, ask yourself whether the
conflict is really about a business-related issue or something personal. If
it’s genuinely about business, then use will power to keep things businesslike.
Sensible people can disagree without being disagreeable.
Confront the problem. Find a mutually agreeable time and place to discuss the
problem with the other person. The time should be when you’re fresh and have
had a chance to calm down. The place should be a setting comfortable for both,
away from each other’s office or “turf.”
Define the conflict. Be specific with who, what, where, when and why? Describe
behaviors, feelings, consequences and desired changes. Define the conflict as a
problem for both of you to solve, not as a battle to be
Listen. Force yourself to try to understand the other party’s position.
Encourage the other person to do the same with yours. All the conflict
resolution experts emphasize the importance of being a good listener, whether
you are involved in the conflict or a mediator. When you really think about it,
most conflicts arise when two people spurt out their thoughts and feelings as
if they were the only ones that count. Sympathetic listening could stop most
conflicts even before they begin.
Communicate. You listen to understand. Afterwards it’s time to be understood. Step
back and try to imagine how the other person sees things. Then, based on the
understanding you’ve gained through listening, start talking about ways to
resolve the dispute. In particular, discuss any changes in the way you see
things or how you feel. Try to get an exchange going in which both of you offer
potential solutions. Instead of rejecting the other side’s position out of
hand, discuss the consequences of each proposal in a rational way, pointing out
the pros and cons.
Get to win-win. Agree to a solution both of you understand and can live with.
Make a provision to discuss things again if the solution does not appear to be
WHEN YOU ARE A MEDIATOR
Here are some techniques that might help you resolve conflict between other
parties when you are not involved directly. This is especially relevant to
supervisors trying to make peace between squabbling
A) Create a cordial atmosphere.
Choose a time and place (neutral “turf”) that suits all parties involved. Avoid
tight schedules when one side or the other might feel pressed to move on.
Compose an opening statement aimed at establishing trust and
B) Define the conflict. Same as if
you were a party to it, except it is up to you to make sure both sides lay
their cards on the table. Sort them out and clarify out loud what you see as
the heart of the conflict. Get both sides to agree before proceeding. Get to
the heart of the matter and avoid side issues. In particular, avoid dredging up
the past. Stay in the present and don’t let the parties get sidetracked with
grudges from past events. Many disputes have their roots in the past, and this
may come out in the course of the discussion.
C) Listen. Being a good listener is
just as important, if not more so, when you are a mediator as when you are one
of the aggrieved parties. Don’t assume you know what’s really bugging the
people in conflict. Listen for clues about unspoken issues. For example, long
ago I worked in an office with a man who had the annoying habit of clucking his
tongue throughout the day. This irritated everyone who worked around him, but
nobody had the nerve to confront him about it. Instead, co-workers complained
to their supervisor about his work, which really was no worse than anyone
else’s. Even though I found the guy as annoying as everyone else did, I thought
it unfair to bring his performance into question. It was an early lesson in
organizational behavior. People don’t always mean what they say.
D) Emphasize the team. Stress that
their differences are hurting the ability of the organization to function,
which hurts everyone’s ability to earn a living. Try to get them to understand
that, even if they don’t like each other, it’s in both of their interests to
cooperate for the good of the company.
E) Generate options. Ask the
parties in conflict to suggest solutions. Write them down, no matter how silly
they may sound. But don’t start discussing them until all ideas are on the
table. Narrow down the list as quickly as possible until you get two or three
seemingly workable solutions that might be acceptable to both sides. Ideally,
it would be a solution cobbled together from suggestions made by each party.
That way each could be made to feel that he “got his way.” Be prepared to offer
suggestions of your own if their solutions prove
F) Get to win-win-win. As a
mediator, your obligation is not only to the persons in conflict but to the
company as a whole. Whatever solution you come up with must satisfy the
company’s needs first. If it makes them happy, too, so much the better. As a
last resort, you might consider bringing in a conflict resolution expert as a
facilitator. This could be helpful when the business disruption is great, when
a supervisor is involved or unable to resolve the conflict, and when all
parties are too valuable to dismiss. A specific situation where this might be
desirable is when a particularly important project might be coming up and you
can’t afford animosities to jeopardize jobsite performance. W&C