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Welcome to The JoyPowered Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White consulting. With me is my cohost, JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm. Today we’re going to talk about workplace conflict. Conflict in and of itself isn’t bad. In fact, JoDee, don’t you think it’s a good thing we have some conflict in the workplace?
It is. We need to get different people’s perspectives and opinions. And, you know, even really bring out conflict or ask and invite conflict in a positive way, of course, to get people to bring different perspectives.
I had a boss once who said “Susan, if you agree with everything I say they don’t need both you and me.”
That’s a good point.
We need we need to have differing opinions we get. I think that’s how you get to root causes. I think it’s how you really get to problem solving. So I absolutely think it’s it is healthy. But we’ve kind of figured out how do we manage it in a way that we don’t get people becoming disengaged because their voice isn’t being heard, or that people snap back, bosses don’t like what someone’s saying. So I think today’s episode should be good. We’re going to talk to an expert, and we’ve done some research on maybe ways to manage conflicts in a healthy way.
Yeah, looking forward to it.
Good. So who can be involved in workplace conflicts? Like who might get engaged in a conflict in the workplace?
Yeah, well, it might be employee on employee, right? Just peers, or people who have bring different perspectives to whatever’s happening.
That’s right. spending too much time with the same people. Time causes conflict, right? Sometimes it is manager and employee and I think that’s the ones we get concerned with, especially if we’re an HR professional or business leader. We’re thinking if the employee and manager are not getting along, we’ve got something fundamentally broken. But it could be manager and manager. Maybe there’s colleagues out there that the management level that are not seeing things the same way.
It might also be an employee and a customer, right?
Yeah, the customer is not always right. We just don’t want them to know it.
Yeah, and how do we deal with those? And keeping a positive customer relationship when in fact, the customer might not be right. So…
Yeah, that’s right. And then, I think the last major area could be just groups of employees versus management, or just groups of employees, when they decide that something isn’t right. They feel like they need to band together because of an injustice. And that’s when I think it gets very, very serious. And our goal, when something comes up, that’s a conflict, how do we deal with it? How do we nip it in the bud so that we don’t get people riled up and feeling like they have to band together in order to be heard.
All right, so there’s no shortage of possible conflict topics or who might get involved in in conflict as business leaders and HR professionals. Let’s talk about maybe some constructive outcomes and maybe approaches. So first we did some research to see what some employers are doing in the area of workplace management. And we found that the University of California San Diego has a page on their faculty and staff HR website that advises their employees on how to handle conflict when it arises at UC San Diego. Their eight recommendations are, and let’s go through the list JoDee, if you wouldn’t mind starting us out.
Number one, surprise, surprise, talk with the other person.
“Don’t make me! Come on. Don’t make me talk to them. That’s why I brought the problem to you.” That often happens in HR, don’t you find, or someone will come into the HR office and say “listen, so and so was driving me nuts, I can’t stand it. What are you gonna do about it?”
And I think the first thing I say is what have you done about it?
Right, right. Or did you talk to them? Did you ask them about it? Did you voice your concern?
Exactly. Number two recommendation is focus on the behavior and the events and not the personalities. I think that can be hard because especially when you work with somebody month after month, year after year, you start to, I think, become more sensitive to the way they do things, especially that irritates you. And when you want to talk to somebody about something that is bothering you, or something you hope will change, it’s very, very important to focus on what occurred, you know, the behavior of the person, not use expressions like “you always,” you know, “you always tend to,” because you’re then making I think, amplifying something in a way that doesn’t need to be. The reason we want to focus on behaviors and events is so that it’s less personal. It’s about here objectively something that occurred that is by Every day, and it’s not you, that’s bothering me it’s this particular behavior.
Exactly. Number three is to listen carefully, right? Seems sort of obvious, but one I know I struggle with sometimes is listening. So we might have an opinion on what’s going on. But we need to listen to the other person’s perspective as well. What did they have going on? What’s what’s their perspective of the situation?
Number four: identify points of agreement and disagreement. It’s when you’re trying to resolve a conflict, taking your breath and as you’re talking through problem solving, or this situation, stopping say, okay, we can agree on that, and actually identifying that we are not in disagreement over everything. I think that can be very healing in the conversation.
Right, right. I love it. Number five is to prioritize the areas of conflict. So as you’re going through step four coming up with what do you agree on, what do you disagree on? Taking those areas you disagree on, and if there’s, you know, several, what, what’s the most important thing you need to solve?
I like that really unpacking it because there might be minor things and major things. Let’s focus on the major. Yeah, it makes sense. And number six is develop a plan to work on each area of conflict. So once you prioritize them, all right, let’s break those in down bite size pieces, and let’s attack each one of them.
And number seven, of course, we can develop a great plan, but unless we follow through on the plan, nothing is going to happen. So we have to follow up and do what we said we were going to do in the plan.
And the number eight, their final one was build on your success. So when you actually have a conflict that gets managed well, and gets resolved, figure out what did we learn from it? And how do we replicate that when future conflicts come up.
Yeah, well done.
Yeah. Good. Good for UC San Diego. So we have a guest today, Rhonda Beard. Rhonda is an innovative leader with a passion for helping businesses build their teams by developing skills, improving performance and retaining top performers. Rhonda is presently with the Bench Builders organization, but her experience spans operations and human resources in multiple industries including banking, manufacturing, transportation, and distribution. Rhonda is based in Tennessee but works with clients all over the United States.
Nice. Welcome, Rhonda.
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Rhonda, we are so glad that you could join us today. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about your experience in resolving workplace conflicts?
Sure. Thanks, Susan. I appreciate you having me this morning. First of all, you know, conflict can happen for so many reasons in the workplace these days, and there seems to be more and more reasons why we’re having conflict. And pretty much if you have more than one person working for you, you’re gonna have conflict to deal with. I think it’s good to recognize the reasons and the signs and be able to address that when it comes up. Because you can’t avoid it. You cannot avoid conflict, it’s going to happen. And a lot of conflicts can arise just between employees that have personality differences. They’re from different generations. The multi-generational aspect is really big in the workforce right now. Because we basically have five different generations trying to work together, and they all have different priorities, different approaches to how they do things. And managers from one generation trying to manage employees in another can create some conflicts and differences as well. Cultural differences, just lack of information, or lack of communication can be a big factor that employees become unhappy with and can create conflicts. And there’s so many outside influences now that are coming into the workplace and into discussions and personality issues with employees. Social media is a big one. There’s so much information on social media, and so many things that people pick up on that they can be happy or unhappy about. Religion, politics, just personal issues with family, balancing work and family issues. So there’s just a lot of issues that can cause conflicts between employees, and most people shy away from it, they don’t like to deal with it. And so it’s human nature to just try to avoid conflict. But if you avoid it, it’s going to get worse, tensions are going to rise, and it’s probably going to escalate to something pretty serious. So, most important is to recognize it and deal with it as soon as you see the signs of a conflict arising.
Nice. And then Rhonda, what is the approach you advise clients to use when they talk to you about conflicts?
Well, in my experience, most conflict really is a result of either poor communication, or lack of communication, or some sort of communication problem can cause a lot of problems between employees. So proactively one of the things we really encourage people to do is build trust and openness with employees create an environment where people are very comfortable speaking up, talking about things that they may be bothered by, and communicating openly between employees as well as employees and managers. But when conflict does happen, again, you really need to take the time up front to address it, everybody’s so busy, and a lot of times don’t want to take the time to deal with employee issues because they have so many other things to do. But you really need to talk to employees and find out what’s going on and listen carefully to what the underlying issues might be. And always dig deeper because usually if there’s something on the surface, there’s something deeper that might really be creating this. So taking the time to talk and listen and really understand what an employee’s issues might be, that are creating this conflict. And then make sure to involve the employee in solutions rather than just telling them what to do. Find out what might be causing the conflict or the unrest and get employees involved through discussion on how to resolve it or what the steps will be going forward. So that it is a better work environment for them and everyone else around them.
Yeah, I like it.
Oh gosh, Rhonda, you did a good job of mentioning some of the things that we do as managers that we shouldn’t do like wishing and hoping and praying it goes away before we have to deal with it.
It doesn’t. It never does. Last week I had that very same conversation with the manager and said, “this is not going to solve itself. It’s not going to go away. If you ignore it, you have to get involved and you have to address it.”
Yes. What other mistakes have you seen managers in your consulting work, do when a conflict arises that you could hopefully help some of our listeners prevent doing?
Well, a couple things I can think of… again, ignoring it we talked about, so it’s not going to go away. You do have to address it, sending an employee off, you know, just say “just go deal with it” and leaving it up to them to resolve it thinking, it may be something trivial. So under-estimating maybe the importance of the issue to the employee. If they have an issue, it may not seem important to you, but it’s important to them. So, understanding the importance of what this issue is to that employee from their eyes, not how you might feel about it, because you may not have the same importance in the issue that the employee does. And then, sometimes people just dismiss people as chronic complainers. “Oh, you know, that’s just Bob” or “Oh, that’s just Jim complaining again.” And I’ve encouraged a few people to take on the challenge of finding out why that person is complaining all the time. Why does that person always have an issue, make it your personal mission to turn that person around because something’s going on there. So you know, just dismissing people or sending them off to kind of resolve it themselves, or just labeling them as a chronic complainer, and not addressing their issues.
I used to call the chronic complainers in my own mind ‘the frequent flyers.’ I was issuing travel points to them, they would get a lot. I love your challenge, you know, where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire. And we’ve got to make sure we don’t label we got to make sure that we listen at each and every time. So wonderful, wonderful advice.
Yeah, great advice. And Rhonda, is there a follow up that you recommend even after the conflict has been resolved?
Of course, it’s and again, if there’s a conflict, it’s usually something that’s escalated to cause some unhappiness or unrest at some point. So once you come up with a solution with an employee, and I would encourage, really the solution is with whoever’s involved in the conflict, so they have buy in, and they’re there supporting whatever solution is recommended. But you need to have follow up, absolutely, to make sure that whatever has changed or whatever has been suggested or agreed upon is sustained. Because it’s too easy to fall back into the same old things, and not make changes, if changes are needed, in order to move forward. So always follow up, always check back with the employees. And again, a lot of this stuff takes time. And from a manager’s perspective, if a manager is dealing with conflict or unrest between employees, they don’t want to take the time because they have so much on their plate to do, but it can escalate into something so much bigger if you don’t. So continue to follow up, be the eyes and ears and really look for any signs that something might still be wrong or might not be moving forward as you had agreed upon. And then, just again, take the time to make sure it’s addressed appropriately because if employees are not satisfied or unhappy with things at work, it can obviously escalate into violence in the workplace, it can escalate into legal issues, and I think everyone would agree that it’s so much better to deal with those things when it’s a small issue than it was when it becomes a big issue.
Right. And maybe sometimes just that one of them leaving the organization too, right? that we didn’t realize…
And sometimes you might just need to get someone out of the workplace. If something’s going on, that’s escalated and tensions are high. It may mean, you know, sending someone home or getting out of the workplace, take them off, you know, to have some coffee, or just remove them from what’s causing the conflict for a while until you can get to something, get to a better place and get to a point where you can talk reasonably with them. So there’s a number of different things you can do. Most importantly, you have to address it as soon as you see it.
So Rhonda, in the situation where it’s not really like a performance or a behavioral issue that rises to the level of corrective action, but it’s just, you know, workplace agitation. People aren’t happy with a particular style of a manager or maybe employees are just aggravated with some behaviors somebody else is doing. What do you recommend just for the day to day? Is there any documentation, any type of notetaking that you as the business owner, or you, as an HR professional might want to think about doing?
Well, we always encourage managers to document any kind of interaction with employees good or bad, so that you have a good view when you’re doing performance reviews, or if you do have to address something later, that you have good notes and a good recollection of any kind of conversations you’ve had with people. And if there are conflicts or issues, absolutely, you know, even if it’s just a few notes or a note card in their file, to keep track of what’s going on. Many managers have 15, 20, 25 employees and they’re not going to have good recollection of every conversation they have with someone. So making notes on any types of issues that allows you to reflect back on conversations you have absolutely is going to be better going forward. If something else comes up, or if you have to address it again, you can refer back to “Well we had this discussion. And if you remember, here’s what we agreed upon, or here’s what we talked about.” So it’s definitely going to put a manager in a better light having good, detailed information when they’re talking with employees.
Yeah, Rhonda, I want to reiterate something you said in your first line of that answer was to document the good things too, right? A lot of times we think of documenting conflict when there was a problem, right? Or when it didn’t go well. But how about documenting “Wow, we we resolve this conflict very effectively, the employee was, was very open to ideas. The employee had some great suggestions on how to resolve this.” So we don’t just have to document when things don’t go well, but when they do go well.
Right. Yeah. And we encourage that primarily so that you do recognize when things are going well, so many employees say the only time I hear from my manager is when something’s wrong.
When you get to doing a performance review with an employee if you don’t have that recollection or notes on positive things that generally doesn’t come out as a balanced review with an employee and managers are not great, a lot of times of putting in all the things that employees have done well during the year.
All makes sense. Well, Rhonda, is there anything else our listeners should know?
Well, I would say first off, try to be more proactive in just creating an environment where people are comfortable speaking up when something isn’t right so that it can be addressed when it’s a minimal issue. Have open communication, really listen. Pay attention and listen to what’s going on with your employees. So that you do know or do recognize when something doesn’t look right or doesn’t sound or feel right. And then, just make sure you’re dealing with conflict when it does come up. You know, conflict in the workplace can have so many other impacts. Employees don’t want to come to work. If there’s conflict, they don’t want to come to work. And so you’ve got people missing work. It can affect productivity because their minds are on whatever they’re upset about. And it can affect the health and safety of your employees as well. So don’t ignore it, deal with it at the first signs, which will be much easier than when it escalates. And there’s a number of different tools that managers can use as well and can get some assistance with that will help work groups communicate better. Myers Briggs is one that I think of, or just assessments that can look at different personalities and help people understand different personality styles and how to communicate better with people that are different than you.
Yeah. Great advice.
Just watch for anything that looks a little bit unusual for an employee and make sure to address it when you see it or hear it.
Yeah. Great advice. And Rhonda, how can our listeners reach you if they want to learn more or engage you?
Well, I am with a company called Bench Builders and our website is bench-builders.com. And my email address is Rhonda@bench-builders.com. So bench and builders has a dash between there. And I’m also on LinkedIn.
That’s great. Rhonda, thank you so much for coming today. Really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and expertise with us.
Well, thanks. I appreciate you asking me.
All right. Thank you.
So JoDee, we also in our research, we found some good information on managing conflict in an article that ATD the Association of Talent Development, published on May 2 2018 on their website. The article is entitled “8 Essential Tips to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace,” and it includes quotes of practical advice from some notable individuals. Let’s go through those.
So number one, don’t avoid workplace conflict. Stewart Harn, the CEO of Clear Review, said “conflict should be addressed head on before it has the opportunity to escalate and become toxic.”
Yeah, that makes sense. I know people who say, “oh man, please, I love harmony. Don’t be making me deal with it.” But I think he’s right. I think we have to.
Right and just avoiding it really only makes it worse in the long run.
Yeah. The second piece of advice is put yourself in their shoes. And the quote for this one comes from Sean Bradley, Director of People at Perk Box. And Sean said, “you will never get to truly understand the motive behind the conflict, if you’re not able to put yourself in their shoes.” I think this is where emotional intelligence really comes into play. You know, the ability to truly empathize and understand how somebody might have gotten themselves into a situation that is now causing conflict doesn’t mean that you have to sympathize, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But being able to relate to I think it’s going to be able to help you help that person. See, you know, a broader perspective.
Showing some empathy. And number three, stick to the facts. Paul Russell, the director of Luxury Academy in London said, “where a mutually acceptable outcome isn’t possible, make decisions that are grounded in fairness and understanding.” That’s a good one too, right? Because sometimes we’re not going to agree when we work through the complex, but at least we can try to be fair and understanding. So it’s crucial to stick to the facts and ensure that no personal feelings or agendas enter into the equation.
It’s where you kind of have to be that grown up in the room that we’ve talked about before, right? Number four, focus on the lesson. Simona Fruman, conflict resolution, expert and mediator, said “focus on what you would do differently next time. So you would prevent such situations from happening.” Goes back to that – what can we learn from this? How can we replicate it? And actually prevent future conflict.
Yeah. Number five communicate business values. Sarah Brown, the co founder of Inspire to Aspire said “if values are unclear, there will be conflict because people will not be sure what makes them a hero or a villain in the organization.” So possessing and communicating company values is essential to any growing business. They help to ground decision making, encourage positive behaviors, and help to recruit and retain like minded employees. You know, so many times companies spend a lot of time establishing values but then don’t always use them or refer back to them and this is a perfect time to say “hey, you know, what have we defined as our company values and what it what is most important to them?” And when you can use your values in these complex situations can be really a great opportunity.
Yeah, I really think you have to live your values. And if you don’t, you’re going to have conflicts because you start to stray. Number six positive employee relations, Jerome Ford, of Ford HR Cloud said, “positive employee relations can be an intangible and enduring asset, a source of sustained competitive advantage.” I do think that it’s important that you talk about we want positive employee relations. And here’s all the things that we do every day to ensure that we have it and so that it just like your values, it’s alive and it’s real.
Yeah, yeah. Number seven, lead by example, Gavin White, the managing director at Autotech Recruit, said “invest in training programs for your senior staff to learn about how to handle difficult conversations. While some employees might possess natural management traits, most don’t, so ensure your leadership teams are well trained and supported.” And you know, of course, we do leadership training, but I really believe in that. Lots of different programs or training available out there on resolving conflict.
And finally, they said “praise and training, you know, give the team achievable incentives to meet group targets and reward them for working together effectively.” That was a quote by Emily Gray, founding director of Bain and Gray. So that training that JoDee just mentioned, absolutely important, but then praising and recognizing people, for truly being great managers have conflict, great managers of that culture and the environment where employees are comfortable coming forward. You know, having their voice and management listening, responding, and acting on it all makes sense.
Susan, our listener question today came from someone who listened to our team building episode. They said “how often should each team participate in team building exercises after the initial session?”
First of all, thank you for listening. I particularly enjoyed that episode. So if you haven’t listened to it, please go back and do. I want to say to you that if you do a team building exercise that I would not make it once and done, I would let people know that having strong teamwork is really important here. We value this team, we want to stay strong. And periodically, we’re going to do team building exercises. And so personally, I think at least once a month, maybe at the beginning of a meeting, or at the end of the meeting, even if that team building is just let’s talk about the most recent movie that we’ve seen. JoDee and Emily and I were just talking movies before we started our podcasting. You know, it’s fun to share. And I think it just helps continue to build camaraderie among the team. So I would think at least once a month, or if you’ve done some type of a team building that was maybe, you know, really significant. Maybe it was you all went through StrengthsFinder together or maybe you all went out to do a rope climbing or something really major. There’s no reason why maybe next month or two months from now, or three months from now, we just talk about “remember what we did three months ago, let’s talk about how that’s changed your impact at what we’re doing today.” So it doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend time or money or having a facilitator come in, but even just reflecting as a group about things I think can be just a great way to keep that focus on team alive. Any thoughts you might have, JoDee?
Well, I love your advice and thinking about sometimes I think people think of team building as it has to be an all day ropes course type of thing and remembering it can be just everybody bring their lunch in, or let’s spend five or ten minutes at the beginning of a meeting. So team building can be a wide range of different things that we can incorporate into our weekly activities or plan those bigger activities half day, two or three hour sessions, full day things a couple times a year, whatever makes sense.
Mm hmm. Great. Keep listening. So in the news section today, HRDive.com has an article on their website regarding businesses increasing interest in helping their employees with their personal financial management. Let me give a quick excerpt from that article. What they said was most of the employers eight in ten, surveyed in Mass Mutual’s 2019 workplace financial wellness study, released on December 3 2019, said that they believe their employees are struggling financially. Among other things, employers worry that workers are having trouble saving for retirement, paying off debts and dealing with medical costs. Employers said they’ve heard employees talking about the struggles although retirement plan participation and knowledge of those who have second jobs also informed these statistics. So many plans, sponsors or employers 57% of them in this Mass Mutual study said they believe employees look to employers for help managing their finances. I want to tell you that I really do think this is a growing trend, that we as employers, really are thoughtful, more thoughtful today than ever in our history, about the fact that so many of our employees have high student loan debt, that most of our employees have car payments, in addition to the fact that they have kids of their own that might have tuition concerns, now or in the future. People are working into their 60s and 70s, and they don’t feel necessarily confident that they have a good enough financial retirement portfolio to support them actually stopping work. I do think this is real and I think employers are increasingly concerned. JoDee, how about you, any of your clients talking to you about what can we do to help our employees with this fear of financial stability?
So I agree with you that I think it’s a rising concern. But I have to say I haven’t had many conversations with clients about what they’re doing. And I’m surprised at that statistic, even, that 57% of employers say their employees are looking to them for help. Because I think of it as an issue sometimes that employees don’t want to talk about that it’s real. And then it’s there, that maybe they’re embarrassed by it because they haven’t done anything about it or because their student debt loan, student loan payments are higher than they went like. So I think it can become something where employees sometimes are not talking about it and sharing enough about it, which could make it worse, too, right? That they’re not they’re not seeking out help on this topic. So I love it, that we’re bringing it more, and that HR Dive did this article about making it important, that companies are talking about it.
Yeah, I have seen some companies starting like financial planning 101 classes. I see more companies now as people are kind of becoming retirement eligible, bringing back the old retirement, financial planning advice, bringing different groups in. I think that employers realize that to have a balanced employee, an engaged employee, we’ve got to have someone who can bring their whole self and be comfortable. So I think companies are seeing it, and they’re trying to introduce more things. But I think your point’s very well made, that some employees are never going to talk about it, because of a pride thing. But I guess if you do the offering, as an employer, maybe you’ll get people there and really truly help people who might not otherwise ask for it.
Right, right. Love it.
That’s something to consider. Well, good. Well, thank you so much for joining today. And I hope that your workplace conflict is all healthy.
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