Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Exchange: Workplace Conflict Resolution Tips

Cross posted from The Nonprofit Jobs Blog...

Let's face it, if you work at a company long enough, you are going to have problems with your co-workers. These arguments could be something as little as a person having an annoying habit, or they could be as big as being offended by a comment at a board meeting. Whatever the disagreement ends up being, workplace conflicts end up taking a huge amount of time from a manage. In fact, according to The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict, a book on workplace conflict resolution by Steven Dinkin (along with co-authors Barbara Filner and Lisa Maxwell), conflicts in the office take up 42% of a manager's time. This can create a huge dent in the productivity of your organization. So how exactly can a nonprofit manager handle these conflicts so that they are a resolved in a timely manner? According to Dinkin and his co-authors, the key to resolving workplace conflict involves four steps:

-Start with an icebreaker: While the authors of The Exchange say that being honest with the situation is an important part of the conflict resolution process, they also say that managers can't just start out the process with bringing up the issue. The reason for this is simple: the individuals involved will only focus on defending themselves and attacking the other person. Instead, a simple icebreaker is the best place to start. The authors say that the best icebreaker will bring up something that is both work-related and positive. For example, if the individuals involved in the workplace conflict are working on a project together, the manager can ask them how they came to work together.

-Listen: Seems obvious, right? But too often, managers are too focused on handling the situation that they don't realize that what they don't say is sometimes the most important. By listening carefully to what both parties are saying, the manager will send the message that they are genuinely concerned about the issue, and are determined to handle it fairly. And really, it makes sense. I remember having a conflict with one of my co-workers at a previous job, and the manager wouldn't let us get a word in. Luckily, our conflict wasn't a big issue, but we both felt like the manager wasn't interested in what we were saying. But the key here is for the manager to understand both sides of the story.

-Use and encourage positive language: This also seems obvious, but it can be easy to get negative when it comes to these kinds of situations. The manager should explain how this issue is affecting the organization's productivity in a way that shows understanding and patience. Here is the example that Dinkin uses: "This has increasingly affected the entire team, and we need to address it so we can get everyone focused back on the project goals and having a comfortable working environment. I am looking forward to establishing a good working relationship between the two of you and improving morale for everyone on the team."

-Work Towards SMART Solutions: Time for acronyms! Dinkin and his co-authors created this handy one to help work out these conflicts:

"Specific: Be clear about who will do what, when, where, and how.

Measurable: Be clear about how you will all be able to tell that something has been done, achieved, or completed.

Achievable: Make sure that whatever solution you agree on fits the situation; that it complies with both the law and organizational policy; that everyone involved has the ability and opportunity to do what is required of them. Don’t set up anyone to fail.

Realistic: Check calendar dates for holidays and vacations; look at past performance to predict future actions; allow extra time for glitches and delays; don’t assume that the best-case scenarios will come true.

Timed: Create reasonable deadlines or target dates; include a few ideas about what to do if something unexpected occurs; be willing to set new dates if necessary."

I found that these tips from The Exchange were very helpful. As the old saying goes, "time is money," and this especially true at a nonprofit organization. So if you are a manager at a nonprofit, you should take this tips to heart.

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