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Nov 24

The Manager’s Success Toolbox

By Dr. Jack Singer | Advising the Advisors , Financial Advisors , Stress Management

Managing Interpersonal Conflict in the Workplace

Managing interpersonal conflict in organizations is among the most critical and important skills that employees on all levels of the organization can possess.

Job insecurity, fueled by fears of downsizing, mergers, the unstable economy and an unknown organizational future, produces fertile ground for the development of conflict. Moreover, advances in technology, which often are viewed as threatening, magnify the potential for anger and frustration in the workplace.

Unresolved or insensitively managed conflict negatively impacts productivity and morale. Ultimately, the bottom line is affected. On the other hand, allowing conflict to surface and skillfully resolving it can be a platform for enhancing employee trust, team building and creativity.

The good news is that managers, trainers and human resources directors can easily learn conflict resolution strategies, put them into practice, and teach them to their employees.

The following three-step program for assessing and implementing a conflict resolution program is a proven, successful plan of attack:

STEP 1. EVALUATING CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLE

Several self-assessment questionnaires have been developed over the years giving people insight into how they react in typical conflict situations. The insight derived from scoring these questionnaires provides an understanding of what “buttons” get pushed when a person is provoked.

STEP 2. IDENTIFYING CONFLICT MANAGEMENT BEHAVIORS

People resort to their own, idiosyncratic behavioral habits when experiencing conflict with others.

These reactions include:

  • Non-productive behaviors, such as: confronting, dominating, defending, using sarcasm, hostile humor, repressing emotions, insisting on being right, stonewalling, and blaming; .
  • Neutral behaviors, such as: avoiding, cooling off, apologizing, and giving in or backing off to avoid confrontation;
  • Positive behaviors, such as: active listening, empathizing, disarming, inquiring, using “I feel” statements, and recognizing how your internal dialogue impacts your emotional reactions.

The goal is to eliminate negative and neutral behaviors and practice positive confrontation reduction skills until they become new habits. On the average, these skills can be learned in only 21 days of concentrated practice!

STEP 3. LEARNING POWERFUL CONFRONTATION REDUCTION SKILLS

Active Listening. The key to all interpersonal communications is genuine listening, as opposed to defensive listening, where you think about your retort while the other person is talking to you, thus not really listening.

In order to begin to really listen, start by paraphrasing what the other person says in your own words, without judging, agreeing or disagreeing. Listen to and reflect the content, needs and feelings of the other person. For example, if someone is telling you about what he thinks is unfair in the way he is overlooked for a raise, the listener might reply: “It sounds like you believe that we don’t really care about you enough to consider what you have done this year in determining whether to give you a raise.”

Notice that the listener is not agreeing, nor disagreeing with the complainer, simply paraphrasing the words and emotions he believes the complainer is expressing.

Next, ask for feedback to determine whether you interpreted correctly. If you have not, ask for clarification. Continue this process until you are sure that you have heard what the other person is saying and how he or she really feels emotionally. Simply getting clarification in order to be sure you have heard what the complainer is talking about will go a long way toward defusing the negative emotions he is feeling, because he is now feeling respected and listened to.

Once you are certain that you understand the message and feelings expressed by the other person, respond. The other person then listens and paraphrases for you. This process continues until you have both clarified your positions and are certain that the other person also really heard you and understands.

Empathizing. This involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to see the world through his or her eyes, taking into account cultural, racial, gender and experiential differences. Remember, empathizing with the complainer is understanding her/his position from their perspective and with the information they have…it is not necessarily agreeing with them.

Example: “I understand that you believe your work product has been as good as Joe Smith’s and he did receive a raise. So you view this as unfair and personal.”

Disarming. The fastest way to defuse an argument is to find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if you do not agree with the basic criticism or complaint. For example, saying “I can understand how you’d feel angry with me since you believe that Joe’s work is no better than yours and I did give him a raise,” acknowledges and validates the angry person’s feelings without actually agreeing with what was said. This opens the door to clarification, feedback and reconciliation.

Inquiring. By asking for clarification of ideas, needs and feelings you signal a feeling of respect and can then work toward mutual understanding and compromise.

“I Feel” Statements. This is a primary skill in interpersonal communications. Expressing yourself with such statements as, “I’m feeling sad and hurt because you believe I am being unfair to you” is much more productive than the accusatory, “Now you’re making me sad and hurt and I don’t like feeling that way.” In the first scenario, you take responsibility for your own feelings and share them; in the second, you escalate the confrontation by blaming and putting the person on the defensive.

In addition, you tell the other person specifically what you need that will make you feel good or what can be done to improve the relationship and avoid further misunderstandings and confrontations.

Example: “I have a list of criteria that are involved in determining when someone is entitled to a raise. You are only looking at one of them when you decide I am being unfair. Let’s discuss how you can improve in the other areas so that you can earn a raise next time.”

Internal Dialogue. The key to analyzing your vulnerability to being provoked into confrontations is to understand how your automatic thoughts, including your assumptions and conclusions, cause every emotional reaction.

Examples of these distortions are: “He shouldn’t keep bugging me about a raise” (using should, must, and have to in judging someone’s actions); “My employees don’t really care about how difficult my job is” (reading your employees’ minds about what they must be thinking and feeling); “Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this job…it’s constant pressure” (catastrophising or fortune telling about what your incompetence or the future; and “I’m must have been stupid for taking this job” (negatively labeling yourself instead of describing your behavior as unfortunate or unproductive).

Once you learn about the distortion habits in your automatic thinking, you can learn how to challenge them and develop more rational, alternative thoughts. The end result is actually dissolving negative emotions and a healthy, more reasonable outlook on every situation in which you find yourself.

Interpersonal conflict is healthy when it brings a rich sharing of ideas, mutual respect and an understanding and appreciation of diverse opinions, needs, and values. Teaching your employees to understand how they traditionally react in conflict situations and how to use confrontation reduction skills leads to greater trust, less stress, more creativity, and can ignite the team. The ultimate benefits are enhanced quantity and quality of products and services!

Jan 18

Do You Dread Going Home At Night?

By Dr. Jack Singer | Children and Family , Stress Management

Learn to overcome conflict at home using these powerful prescriptions.

Does this sound like your family?

You are a Type A personality. You’re driven, intense and focused primarily on your career. You tend to look at yourself as having to be perfect, are impatient with co-workers and subordinates who are slower than you or who don’t share your passion about their work and careers.

Of course, these personality traits carry over to your home life, as well. You get impatient and easily irritated at your teens who don’t have that kind of passion about school, sports, or anything in their lives, except, their friends.

Most likely, your spouse does not share your personality traits, either. It’s what attracted you to them. They may be a people pleaser, “yessing” you and accepting you because he/she loves you. You predicted that you would be happily married, partly because it would be unlikely that your spouse would compete with you and therefore, you would always be in control in the relationship.

Or, perhaps, your spouse or one of your children, is just as competitive as you and therefore there is a constant power struggle going on within the family.

Unresolved or insensitively managed conflict negatively impacts families on multiple levels. In these situations, you hate coming home perhaps as much as you hate going to work. On the other hand, if you can learn how to skillfully resolve conflicts, it can be a platform for enhancing the love and warmth within your family.

The following is a three-step series of behavioral prescriptions for assessing and implementing a conflict resolution program at home. Once put into practice, in as little as 21 days you can see positive change in your relationship with your spouse, children and stop the “I hate going home” feeling:

Rx #1. Use A Thought Stopping Technique

Whenever you get angry at a family member, it is never what that family member says or does that gets you angry; rather, it is your interpretation (based on your own internal dialogue) of what that family member says or does that always determines your
emotional reaction.

Internal Dialogue

The key to analyzing your vulnerability to being provoked into confrontations, is to understand when your automatic thoughts, including your assumptions and conclusions, are distorted and therefore cause the emotional reactions you make.

Examples of automatic thought distortions are:

  • “My teenager should respect my rules, even if she doesn’t like them.”(using should, must, and have to in judging your actions);
  • “My husband is selfish and doesn’t care about my needs, ” (reading your spouse’s mind about what he must be thinking and feeling);
  • “I will never be happy as long as these kids are living in this house.”(catastrophizing or fortune telling about what negative things will happen to you in the future);
  • “I’m a failure as a parent” (negatively labeling yourself instead of describing your behavior as unfortunate or unproductive).

Thought Stopping

Once you learn about the distortions that are part of your automatic thinking, you can then learn how to stop them in their tracks. This works through a process of challenging your distorted thinking and developing a more rational, alternative set of beliefs. . The end result is dissolving negative emotions and engaging in a healthy, more reasonable outlook, despite the situation.

Rx # 2. – Identify Your Typical Conflict Management Habits

People resort to behavioral habits when they experience conflict with others. These reactions include:

  • Non-productive behaviors, such as: confronting, dominating, defending, using sarcasm,hostile humor, repressing emotions, insisting on being right, stonewalling, and blaming;
  • Neutral behaviors, such as: avoiding, cooling off, apologizing, and giving in or backing off to avoid confrontation;
  • Positive behaviors, such as: active listening, empathizing, disarming, inquiring, and using “I feel” statements.

The goal is to eliminate negative and neutral behaviors and practice positive confrontation reduction skills until they become new habits. On the average, with practice, these skills actually can be learned in only 21 days!

Rx # 3. – Use These Powerful Confrontation Reduction Skills

Active Listening 

The key to all interpersonal communications is genuine listening. This is different from defensive listening, which is where you internally plan your retort
while the other person is talking to you.

In order to really listen, paraphrase what the other person says in your own words. Do this without judging, agreeing or disagreeing. Then, listen and reflect the content, needs and feelings of the other person.

Next, ask for feedback to determine whether you interpreted correctly. If you have not, ask for clarification. Continue this process until you are sure that you have heard what the other person is saying and how he or she really feels emotionally.

Once you are certain that you understand the message and feelings expressed by the other person, respond. The other person then listens and paraphrases for you. This process continues until you have both clarified your positions and are certain that the other person really heard you and understands.

Empathizing

This involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to see the world through his or her eyes. As you do this, consider the age and experience of the person with whom you are in conflict so you can accurately assess the experience of the other person.

Disarming

The fastest way to defuse an argument is to find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if you do not agree with the basic criticism or complaint. For example, saying “I can understand why you feel angry with me since you believe that I
violated your trust by sharing our conversation with dad” acknowledges and validates the angry person’s feelings without actually agreeing with what was said. This opens the door to clarification, feedback and reconciliation.

Free 20 Minute Telephone Consultation with Psychologist Dr. Jack Singer