Conflicts of Interest
Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.
We’re halfway through our list of a Dozen Dirty Behaviors that cause problems at work with #6; giving vauge instructions.
What do you think your boss means when she gives you an assignment and then adds, “When you get to it” as part of the instructions? Does she mean to provide the final product by 3:30? Maybe she wants it by Wednesday at noon? Or, do you interpret her vagueness to mean never because you have other work to do? Conversely, if she says, “Make this is a priority” do you drop everything and work on the new task until it’s finished–even if you miss other deadlines?
Ambiguity about what’s needed, by when, and by whom is a common frustration in the workplace (it’s also a frustration at home but that’s another subject!). If you work with someone who too often uses hazy, vague language or skims over the details, don’t be afraid to ask questions to bring things out of the fog. Sometimes it’s helpful to put the questions in the form of a statement like, “This is a priority, so I’m going to drop the other projects until Thursday noon when this is due.” When you do that you not only create clarity around the instruction but you also demonstrate for the other person how to give clear, precise instructions that leave little for misinterpretation.
Interpreting what someone wants can be as confusing as trying to interpret why they don’t just spell it out from the start. Sometimes people leave out details because they’re busy or they think you already know the answer—and in today’s workplace that’s understandable. Sometimes we leave out details because we’re concerned others will be upset or react poorly. Whatever the reason, if you experience a coworker who is hesitant to give you all the information you need, you may have to ask pointed questions to help them tighten up their request. Ask questions like, “Do you need this by 5:00? By tomorrow morning at 7:00? What’s your preference?” and so on until you’ve narrowed the field of potential options and have an agreement. It may take a little practice and a few extra minutes getting all the details but it certainly beats an awkward situation in which one of you is trying to read between the lines and the other is hoping everything will just work out.
When it comes to how you deliver expectations practice being clear each and every time. Say things like, “I would like you to complete an outline for the report and email it to me by 6:00 p.m. today. I’ll read it over tonight and let you know what I think right after my morning meeting with Joe tomorrow.” A statement like that leaves very little room for misunderstanding. It also gives the other person the opportunity to negotiate something else so he doesn’t let you down when he doesn’t provide exactly what you needed.
Don’t you find it frustrating when you have an idea that you’re dying to share and after getting out only a few words someone cuts you off or moves on to the next person? Yeah, me too; and that’s just one example of dismissive behavior in the workplace. Moving things along in a business setting is necessary at times but the way in which it’s done can make the person doing it look foolish as much as it makes the recipient of the action feel small.
If you’re the one feeling dismissed, be open to the reality that the way others react to your ideas may have something to do with your delivery. Consider how you might come across more succinctly (think bullet points!) and get to the benefit of your idea quickly. Actually, think about starting with it. Saying something like, “We could raise our customer service rating by 10% if we…” is sure to grab attention faster than saving it for a big finish.
What if you’re the one who’s been accused of being dismissive or flip? Try giving yourself an internal time limit before you speak—especially if the speaker wants to share a feeling or emotion about something. Better yet, ask at least one question about whatever it is he’s saying before you consider whether his contribution is worth exploring or his concerns are valid. “Tell me what makes you think that” or “What would be the benefit for trying that” are perfect (and quick) ways to help the speaker get to the point faster and avoid losing your attention.
Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to the catchall phrase, “personality clashes”, let’s yell #4 from the rooftops!
Some employees like to say, “Unless you’re bleeding, choking, or there’s a fire, I don’t need to know about it.” On the other end of the spectrum there are those want to take the smallest glitch and make it a Federal case—complete with imaginary TV coverage and expert commentary.
Big reactions with big voices and big gesticulations often stem from a lack of information and a whole lot of assuming. They also seem to happen when people are especially tired, stressed, or under a lot of pressure. And, what workplace doesn’t experience stress or pressure? It’s expected that you and your peers will snap at each other once in a while. Feeling slighted by a comment or a being worried about a missed deadline isn’t that unusual. Throwing a fit and getting into a spitting match in the middle of the hallway, though, is over-reacting.
There are two important things to remember about over-reacting. First, the more emotional the response, the more you know that the real issue is probably not the one being discussed. Secondly, the more emotional someone is the less they’re going to be able to reason with you. Instead of responding with your own snarky retort take a breath and let the person vent for a minute. Give them some space and come back to the topic when things aren’t so raw. Consider a few open-ended questions or calming comments that will help you uncover what the reaction is really about. For example, say something like, “I can see this is really upsetting. What’s most bothersome about it for you? Help me understand this reaction.” If they’re not able to answer in a way that makes sense to you, either keep asking or suggest you talk another time when you’re both better prepared.
If you’re the one who’s about to blow up or cry or stomp out, ask for some time so you can decipher what it is about the issue that is causing you to want to react poorly. Is it really that the report came in 15 minutes late or that your coworker makes you feel unimportant all too often? You may have to find some quiet time to work through your emotions or you may find it helpful to ask someone to listen while you rant about the situation until you’ve reached a conclusion regarding the real issue. Either way, stepping back from an over-reaction (yours or theirs) gives you both the opportunity to return with clearer heads so you have a better chance of putting out the right fire.
Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to the catchall phrase, “personality clashes”, I’m adding:
#3 Pitting People Against Each Other
Building a cohesive work group is nearly impossible when behaviors that divide and conquer take over. If your supervisor has a tendency to pit people against each other in what she thinks is merely a friendly competition for more sales or better customer service, she may not know that she’s tearing her team apart. Dividing coworkers can cause deep divides that are hard to bridge.
Bringing up sensitive issues in a team meeting (like what’s-his-name’s inability to meet deadlines), or ignoring tension, playing favorites, and using sarcasm to make a point are all ways we can stir up issues at work. Those specific behaviors do nothing for creating a productive workplace and when the victims of such actions clue into what’s happening they can sometimes turn on the culprit—creating a scene that doesn’t often end well.
No one likes to feel small in front of their peers; even if you think it’s the push they need to improve. If you’re looking for ways to motivate an individual, start by seeing him as an individual. Private discussions about shortcomings or areas for improvement will help him hear your message while you tailor your comments to his specific situation. Let’s be honest; public displays that result in winners and losers are only fun for the winners!
And, then there’s gossip. It’s the ultimate way to divide people and one of the most common behaviors that even the best of us have participated in. If you do it, it’s time to stop it. If a coworker comes with a juicy bit of information or you notice he’s good at throwing barbs at others when he has an audience, don’t participate. Instead, say something like, “I’m not sure how necessary that was,” or “I think I’ll pass on this conversation.” A good response that works almost every time is, “Oh”; followed by a prolonged period of silence. That sends a clear message that you have no intention of participating in destructive behaviors that divide, rather than unite, the working relationships around you.
Why concern yourself with changing these behaviors? Consider that friends and allies come from all corners of the workplace. The individuals affected today may be the very folks sitting on the hiring panel for your next position or, worse yet, the seemingly innocuous coworker who stealthily thwarts your every move as a way to repay you for the hurt you’ve caused. Plus, there’s power in numbers and a united team is far more powerful than a divided team.
Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to “personality clashes”, I’m adding:
#2 Letting Ego Get in the Way
Do you ever feel like a few doorways in the office need to be widened just to let some of the egos squeeze through? Well, you’re not alone. Yammering on about one’s greatness and making decisions based on the façade created for others is an interesting behavior because (it seems to me) that the louder one is about personal importance the more others can see just the opposite in them.
If your manager’s ego is so large it’s blocking out the sun, it’s very likely that he’s insecure, looking for respect, or bringing a whole lot of little red wagon issues from his past into the office. So, how might you deal with him? Easy: appeal to his ego! Remember not to take personally his need for attention or think that any attention going to him is attention not going to you. Instead, find a way to share in the spotlight he works so hard to garner. Say things like, “I’d like your opinion on…” and “I think you could really help me with…” Those are phrases that will perk up his ears because they make him feel good about himself and validate not only his position as your superior but showcase areas in which he really can add value. Obviously, don’t forget to give him credit for things along the way because if he thinks he can get a little recognition from what you do, he’ll do a lot for you.
If you work with someone who isn’t getting the job done because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, find ways to make it okay for her to admit she doesn’t have the answers. Help her out by demonstrating through your own actions that it’s okay to seek more knowledge on the subject or say something like, “I’m not sure either of us knows the answer on this one, so how could we find out.” If you believe you know what to do, saying, “What’s worked for me in the past is xyz; what do you think about giving that a try?” Taking an approach that sends the message you’re all in this together and that you don’t know everything either creates the space for her (and everyone around her) to accept help from others.
Singing your own praises can turn off even your closest ally. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the things you don’t know. In fact, in David Marcum and Steven Smith’s book “Egonomics” they suggest we approach our workday with a mantra akin to “I’m brilliant and I’m not.” I think that makes perfect sense because it’s not asking you to over- or understate your knowledge and experience; it’s simply suggesting that you apply a little humility to what you know and make it okay to talk about the things you don’t. If someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s far better to respond with, “Good question, let me investigate that” than it is to make up something that only upsets people when it turns out not to be the case.
Okay, so now I think I should check my ego at the door because that’s about all I know on the subject.
A smart guy and I are creating a webinar series for employees on the topic of conflict resolution. In one section we decided to break down what it means to have a “personality clash” with a coworker. The two of us are going back and forth on what to include and it all started with a study that indicated nearly half of all workplace conflicts are due to “personality clashes and warring egos.” Well, what the heck does that mean? I’m starting to think it’s been a catch-all phrase that’s been around far too long and was perhaps developed by folks who didn’t want to take responsibility for resolving issues. I suppose the premise is that if you simply say a problem is due to a personality clash, then that absolves anyone from addressing it or being accountable for poor behavior. And, how ridiculous would it sound to tell someone to change their personality? Where would they start? Maybe that’s why, in some cases, a whole lot of nothing gets resolved when there’s an ongoing problem between coworkers.
In an effort to demonstrate how a personality clash or warring ego might exhibit itself, I started a list. So far I have a dozen behaviors that cause problems in the workplace—that could be attributed to the umbrella “personality clash” explanation. I thought I’d share each of them with you one at a time so we could discuss and maybe refine the list; adding more when needed. I’ll tell you now that each of them will be brief and won’t cover deep, psychological reasoning or have solutions based on behavioral science studies because 1) that’s not who I am, and 2) I want you to be able to get the message quickly and start to address an issue if it sounds familiar. Here’s the first from my dirty dozen list.
Ask 10 people the worst attribute in a coworker and most, if not all, will say micromanaging.
If you think you may be the coworker guilty of watching too closing or giving someone the sense that you’re breathing down their neck, try stepping back for a second so you can reassess your approach. Instead of stressing over every little detail, set clear expectations regarding due dates and other expectations including the amount and quality of the work you’re looking for.
Nitpicking every little detail can make others feel small, so be sure to watch the level of criticism as compared to how much you praise. Start by saying something like, “The layout works well and so the next step should be to make the message a little tighter,” or “You did a good job of getting all the data in, now let’s figure out a way to make the bottom line more obvious; what are your thoughts.” Being hypercritical of every little detail puts you at risk for having a reputation as someone who can’t see the bigger picture. As someone who has a tendency to micromanage, the bottom line message is: if you’re not directly responsible for the quality of someone else’s work, concentrate on your own backyard.
Now, if you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s micromanagement tendencies, start by seeing things from their perspective and consider the real motivation behind the behavior. Once you get past flippant responses like, “He does that because he wants me to be miserable,” you’ll begin to have a better understanding of what motivates his hovering approach.
For instance, if your boss makes you feel as if she would be just fine pulling up a chair and sharing a desk with you so she can keep an eye on your every move, she may be concerned with her reputation or care deeply about the final product. Try steering her in the right direction by considering what she does well and then say, “Where you really add value is with presenting the final data.” Get her focused on areas that have the potential to help you. Create check-in points at the beginning of a project. If she’s not crazy about doing that, ask if she’s willing to give it a shot just this once and if she’s still uneasy, ask what would make her feel comfortable with fewer check-ins.
Finally, ask her to share her overall vision or goal and pledge to make decisions based on that goal. Let her know that you believe an important part of your job is to make her look good and she may be more trusting.
Happy New Year! Yes, it’s that time of year when we collectively pledge to get thinner, richer, and more organized. How about this year we forego some of the usual resolutions and instead focus on resolving some of those lingering issues we have with others? If you’re ready to address the ice between you and another person, here are a few ideas from previous blogs to get you started.
Be ready to be turned down: You’re resolving to get things right but that doesn’t mean that the other person is going to want to make nice. Choose language carefully so you can craft a message that fully expresses your desire for the two of you to discuss what’s happened and your willingness to find a solution that works for both of you. Saying, “I think we should put this behind us” may be what you’re feeling but the other person could interpret that to mean, “Your feelings are unimportant in this and I’ve made a decision to ignore them.” Not good. If you get turned down, be sure to let the other person know that you’re leaving the door open for a conversation when she’s ready.
Be ready to admit your part: Approaching the other person with an admission of what you could have handled better is a great way to deflate a stand-off and create the space for him to do the same. He will likely be wary of your intentions so make sure you use “I” statements such as, “I felt hurt about the things that were told to Susan” rather than, “You really messed things up when you told Susan those things.” Be genuine and leave the excuses (you may call them explanations) for later. Offer a full apology that includes a commitment that you won’t repeat your actions.
Be open to considering the other person’s perspective: You likely have a lot of points you’d like to make. Perhaps you’ve even jotted down a few notes or created a list of items you’d like to talk about. Hold that thought. Start any conversation with a sincere invitation for the other person to tell you, from her perspective, what happened and how it impacted her. When she’s talking, consider what she’s sharing (not just listening for an opening so you can jump in) and let her talk as long as she’d like before you ask questions or explore further.
Be clear about what you’d like to see happen: So, now what? If you don’t have a master plan to hold hands and walk off into the sunset, at a minimum you might suggest that the two of you can be cordial or have the capacity to be in the same room without making others uncomfortable. Do a little thinking beforehand about what “putting it behind you” looks like to you and ask if the other person is willing to hear your description. You may want to get back to being friends but it’s okay to be open to something less than that until trust is rebuilt. Remember, you’ve had time to consider the full conversation so let the other person get up to speed and don’t try to rush things.
Needing to land a big client, talking the family into taking a risky adventure holiday, or sharing a perspective in a dispute all have something in common. All three are presentations (or pitches if you will) for getting someone to agree to what you want.
Johnny Chan of the San Diego digital marketing consultancy firm eBoost Consulting, put together a few tips he thinks companies should remember when they’re out to impress and win business. I think those tips also make sense for anyone who needs to get his point of view considered in a disagreement, so I’m going to share them with you with my interpretations for how they relate to resolving conflicts.
Johnny Chan says:
There are three things you need to do in order to produce an excellent pitch:
- Craft a compelling message
- Enhance with compelling visuals
- Deliver with impact
There are three things you need to do in order for someone to consider your perspective:
- Craft a compelling message
- Enhance with inviting tone and body language
- Deliver with sincerity
Johnny Chan says about the message:
Children are great storytellers. They’re not only energetic and enthusiastic about what they’re saying, but they focus everything around the listener.
When you’re making a pitch, tell listener-focused stories that engage and spike the interest of your audience. You do this by crafting your message around your intended listener. Start with your point of view or the “thesis” of your presentation, move to the actions your client can take to achieve their goals and then explain the benefits of these actions.
Be compelling and grab your client’s attention with what you have to say. Sprinkling your presentation with anecdotes or opening with a story that will lead into your pitch is a great way to grasp attention.
I say about the message:
Yep, he’s right when he talks about being listener-focused. Craft a message that will be easy for your listener to hear. Only talking about your side of a disagreement or pointing out everything the other person has done wrong, isn’t compelling. People want to do what’s right—especially for themselves—so if you’re only talking about you, you’ve lost half your audience.
Johnny Chan says about the visuals:
Compelling visuals can make your presentation interesting, engaging and memorable.
The most important visual aspect of your presentation are a killer title and opening slides.
These will set the theme (style, tone, color) to make it a cohesive story. Using beautiful and relative visuals will stimulate the listener’s interest throughout the entire presentation.
Along with photos, data can be effective. Data provides concrete and tangible detail to your presentation, and allows for minimal word usage. Remember that your entire presentation should be no more than 25 words.
I say about the visuals:
The way you talk about your point of view can be more impactful than the content. Having relaxed and open body language from the start (your opening slide, so to speak) can set the tone for a productive conversation. Unfold your arms, loosen that stiff upper lip, and keep control over your rolling eyes
Johnny Chan says about the delivery:
Delivering a message with impact relies completely on the presenter, and what that presenter does. The entire delivery of your presentation should include these five things:
I say about the delivery:
How your perspective is received relies heavily on the level of sincerity in which it is delivered. Recap the situation as you see it without placing blame. If you’re generally good at humor, it’s okay to use it but be sure you’re the target of the humor, not the other person. Analogies are my best friends—I use them daily! If you’re having a difficult time explaining the impact an action had on you, it can be very helpful to use an analogy as a way to create common ground.
Johnny Chan’s extra tips
- Use Guy Kawaski’s 10:20:30 style: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 size fonts.
- Always supply the client with a document of the proposal along with the presentation. The effects of your stunning presentation will eventually fade and that is when the document comes into play.
- If you get presentation nerves, practice at least 20 times so that you are completely comfortable and familiar with it.
My extra tips:
- Keep it short, simple, and to the point.
- If you’re nervous, practice what you’d like to say with someone you trust so they can give you pointers if you’re veering off course.
- Once you’ve had the discussion, either create a written agreement right then and there or follow up with a note recapping what you believe the plan is moving forward.
Johnny Chan says anyone can do it:
Chan believes that you don’t have to be a natural-born presenter in order to give engaging, compelling and interesting presentations.
Oh, absolutely, anyone can do this.
Brownnoser, suck up, and backslapper are just a few of the monikers folks at work get when they have the boss mesmerized and delivering whatever they want. Coworkers may like to point out a yes-man’s flaws and make a lot of noise about his behavior, but that doesn’t stop a teacher’s pet from receiving special attention and perks. Rather than getting angry about her techniques, it may be beneficial to take a look at what she’s doing from a strategic perspective. Here are a few things to consider:
1) Throwing an occasional compliment your boss’s way or being the first to volunteer on a project she cares about can get you what you want down the road. If you have
your sights set on leading the next big assignment, your enthusiasm for a less than exciting task now is a good way to talk about your commitment later.
2) People help people they like. If you’d like to map out a successful career path, who better to help you get there than your boss? She most likely has the ear of other managers and execs so it makes sense to have her on your side. Demonstrating that you’ve got her back today shows her how she can have yours when you need it most.
3) It’s easier to get work done when you’re able to discuss the pros and cons freely–and you can do that when the boss feels good about you. If you’re only complaining, she may see your critiques as just another string of negativity and treat you like the boy who called wolf. If she knows that you approach things with balance and include praise with your criticisms, you may spend less time convincing her to try it your way.
A word of caution, though. The art of sucking up should be about you and others. If you’re not willing to help others along the way and help your boss achieve her goals, then
your self-serving behavior could backfire. Absolutely do not ostracize others, step on backs, say only negative things about your peers, or push them out of the way. That behavior isn’t sucking up; it’s just plain sucky.
This article is a great reminder that it’s never too late to make amends. What’s even better is that the store management is allowing the man to move on–there won’t be a big investigation, just acceptance. Nice job all the way around!
SEATTLE (AP) — The manager of the Sears store in downtown Seattle says an elderly man has repaid — with interest — cash the man says he stole in the late 1940s.
KING-TV reports that the man hand-delivered an envelope Monday addressed to “Sears manager.” Inside were a note and a $100 bill. The note said the man stole $20 to $30 from a cash register decades ago and wanted to pay back $100.
Manager Gary Lorentson says he thinks the man’s conscience “has been bothering him for the past 60 years.”
Store security cameras recorded the man, but Sears officials said they don’t know who he is and they won’t release the video.
The store plans to put the money toward helping needy families in the holiday season.