6 Red Flags of Workplace Conflict

“Wow, I never saw THAT coming!” As a leader, this is a statement you never want to make. Many of us think we know what trouble in the ranks looks like, but too often conflict is simmering without our awareness. And suddenly we’re getting blindsided by a full-blown crisis, and all the costs that it entails.

Conflict doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. There are always red-flag warnings that a conflict is developing, and you are much more likely to avert disaster if you know what to look for early on - and then can act on it in a productive way.

The flip side of this concept is equally -- in fact, even more -- important. The leader who is aware of how their team members are interacting with each other in conversations, emails, agreements they’ve made, during meetings, etc., can accurately take the pulse of their team’s ability to function and to thrive. Then positive behaviors can be acknowledged and nurtured, which pays big-time dividends in high morale, collaboration, productivity, and innovative contributions. This is called ‘harnessing the power of conflict.’

What are the conflict red flags you need to look for?

Here are 6 signs that indicate there is a problem brewing in the workplace. These are not the only signs, but some of the most common. Each is described in the form of a question to help you suss out potential red flags in your own workplace. I recommend you use this as a tool and write out your answers.

Dysfunctional meetings. Do your staff meetings turn into gripe sessions instead of brainstorming sessions? Are there one or two people who always seem to dominate the conversation, while others appear annoyed or distracted?

Anger or over-the-top reactions.  Do you notice anyone who seems easily triggered into anger or overly-emotional reactions? Anger is rarely the response for a first-time or one-off upset.

Distrust. Trust is essential in any team work environment. Are people complaining about other people? Are you noticing a feeling of skepticism around the team’s project or management’s ability? Are team members able to be vulnerable with each other?

Cliques forming. Employees should be working as a team, functioning as one collaborative body. Are you noticing that people are dividing into cliques, or do the same employees always seem to team up on projects, or sides of an issue?

Repetitive disagreements. Does it seem that the same people always disagree? Is the disagreement often over petty matters? This may be a communication issue that can escalate into disputes or worse..

Inappropriate communications. Are you getting reports of rudeness, disregard for another’s opinion, or inappropriate language, which are showing up during meetings, interpersonally, or in written communication such as emails? Consistent rudeness or disrespect for others can be an indicator that something is going to blow up soon.

What to do with a red flag moment?

If you happen to notice these or similar signs that trouble is brewing, do not assume that the issue will resolve itself. If you think you can ignore them, consider this: A study by CPP Inc. (publishers of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument) found in their study on workplace conflict, that U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with disruptive conflict. This amounts to about $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95)!

The situation needs to be addressed as early as possible by your team leader, HR staff, or yourself. In many cases, a professional conflict advisor can help everyone get to the core cause of the conflict and help resolve any issues. If you’re wondering what your next move will be, consult a trusted advisor, or, perhaps a professional independent conflict advisor. Develop an option or two, and tackle the issue head on.

As a leader, knowing these subtle but important indicators can help you better understand your own workforce, employees and teams -- not only what might escalate into a conflict, but how avoiding or heading off some of these things can in fact enhance their performance and engage them more in their work. Seem counter-intuitive? Schedule a conversation with me, and I can show you how this works.

Mediator on the Mekong: Notes from the Field

Mediator on the Mekong: Notes from the Field

This is the first in a series of posts from Resologics' Senior Practitioner Scott Martin. Offering an inside glimpse into the wide-reaching impact that mediators can have in the world...not to mention the adventures!

It’s my third day in Yangon (Myanmar), and I’ve been doing my best to fit in.  I’ve got a longyi tied around my waist just right, a tucked-in collared shirt, and sandals just like the locals.  Maybe it’s the bright papier-mache giraffe sticking out of my pack or the handlebar mustache, but as I stroll through the park, locals freely point, giggle and some stop to take a picture with me.  Clearly blending in will take some time.

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5 Conflict Handling Modes You and Your Team Should Know About

5 Conflict Handling Modes You and Your Team Should Know About

How do you, as a leader, go about building a creative conflict foundation for your team(s)?

One tool that Resologics uses in our work with leaders and teams is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). It is a self-report assessment that allows you to discover your (and your team members’) particular way of approaching conflict. The TKI has been the worldwide leader in this area for almost 40 years, so you can be confident that it's a tool that has withstood the rugged test of time.

I’m going to share with you some of the conflict-handling behaviors you might be able to spot in your team members - or yourself!

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Key Communication Skills for the Mediator

Key Communication Skills for the Mediator

Mediators are the custodians of the communication flow. They need to pay close attention to communication, both their own communication skills and the communication dynamics of the participants. They should strive to model clear communication that supports collaborative action, and be very aware of the challenge Shaw describes in the quote above. They should also be aware that to manage the conversation in a manner that maintains focus and supports resolution is a skill that matures over time.

Most mediators consider empathic listening to be their core skill. In addition, the advanced listening skill of reframing is vital. Mediators need to constantly reframe what they hear in order to discharge unnecessary negativity and personal attacks and thereby enable the conflict to be worked on productively. This is one of the most active ways in which they engage in the conflict. Mediators also need to ask a lot of questions, not to satisfy their curiosity but to support the conflict-resolution process. And when they need to assert themselves or be persuasive, mediators are tactful communicators.

This chapter focuses on the key communication skills that support the mediation process. Each of these skills is reviewed from the perspective of the mediator.

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The Mediation Process

The Mediation Process

In this post/chapter, I review my definition of mediation and explain the five basic phases of the mediation process, as shown in the illustration above. I also discuss the caucus and how it can be used before the mediation as part of convening, during the mediation as part of the education phase, and after the joint mediation sessions as part of the follow-up process. The chapter ends with a consideration of the involvement of management champions.

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Universal Human Capacities for Conflict Resolution: A Search for Reliable Cross-Cultural Peacemaker Tools

Universal Human Capacities for Conflict Resolution: A Search for Reliable Cross-Cultural Peacemaker Tools

What are the universal human core capacities, desires, and innate abilities people in conflict possess that cross-cultural peacemakers can always count on to help parties resolve conflicts? The purpose of answering this question is to help peacemakers develop a clear idea of how parties from different cultures can be guided through conflict resolution processes. I believe that conflict intervention strategies and processes must largely center on the parties’ common core abilities to resolve conflict. Although several categories of human universals will be explored here, the focus of this literature review and research is to examine the current theories that surround the human ability to resolve conflict. Some questions have naturally emerged from this study: Do we know how to resolve conflicts at birth or is it a learned skill? Are there aspects of our innate abilities that predispose us to resolve conflicts without violence? What are those innate abilities and how can we as conflict managers use them to help keep the peace?

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The Mediator's Stance

The Mediator's Stance

In martial arts training, students are taught the benefit of various body and mental postures. The totality of these postures, when adopted together, amounts to an effective stance for defense and attack. Students are taught to adopt this stance when presented with a challenge, notwithstanding any contrary reflexive or reactive instincts or habits. The familiarity of the stance inspires confidence and prepares them to meet their reality with competence and agility. It ensures that they are on the best footing possible.

In mediation, there are a number of key postures that are helpful to adopt, that together can be described as the mediator’s stance. In essence, the stance is more of an attitude and mindset which ensures that you do no harm, while supporting collaboration and the emergence of a creative solution. It prepares you to respond consciously in the moment when mediating, and allows you to mediate informally.

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Med-Arb: The Best of Both Worlds or Just A Limited ADR Option?

Med-Arb: The Best of Both Worlds or Just A Limited ADR Option?

People in conflict are looking for a resolution process that is fair, consistent, transparent, inexpensive, quick, and in some way allows them to tell their own story. Med-Arb offers parties the ability to obtain a definite resolution of a particular dispute, with reduced cost, efficient process, and flexibility to pursue consensual settlement prior to or during binding arbitration. In the right circumstances, med-arb may represent the process that best serves the interests for your clients.

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What They Want: Their Needs

What They Want: Their Needs

The key to solving a conflict is the identification of the participants’ underlying needs. One of the most important tasks of the mediator is to make these needs explicit. The participants typically come to the mediation aware of what they want (their ideal solution), but few have done the preparation work that helps them to discover why they want this particular outcome (their needs).

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Organizational Ombuds as Smoke Jumpers

My friend and colleague David Miller once sat in a meeting with me and took on the question from a client; What is the big picture of what you all do? David answered something like this; Envision your organization as a single dense forest sitting on a vast landscape of rolling grassy hills and mountains. The ombudsman’s job is to walk through the forest, and step back from the forest, and watch the forest from a very high perspective almost like a hawk does, curious, vigilant, and skilled. The Ombudsman walks and circles and looks from all angles and what we look for is smoke coming from inside your forest. When we spot smoke coming from your forest we take action and move in and stop the smoke before it spreads and turns into a raging fire. Then the Ombudsman helps those who manage the forest see why there was smoke in the first place and also helps them to understand what they can do to stop it from happening again. That’s the big picture of what we do.

 
Comment

Mark Batson Baril

Mark is a conflict advisor and ombudsman for organizational teams. If you would like to contact Mark please e-mail him at mark@resologics.com

Resologics provides conflict advising services to organizations to help them avoid disputes, optimize team dynamics for better outcomes, and reduce costs. The resologics team can be reached at 510.314.8314 | team@resologics.com | www.resologics.com

Guide to Emotions

Guide to Emotions

Paul Ekman, a psychologist from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), established the universality of facial expressions and identified seven core emotions that all humans are hardwired to display: anger, fear, sadness, contempt, disgust, happiness and surprise.

Mediators need to recognize the different emotions and decide how they influence the decision-making process in a mediation. They need to tune into and sense the emotional states of the participants. Not only does the mediator need to recognize each participant’s emotional state (let’s say, for instance, anger or sadness), but also the intensity of the emotion (how angry or how sad the person is).

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Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams

Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams

Team members work in increasingly diverse environments: in terms of age (there are more older workers), gender (there are more women), race (there are more people of color), language (there are more languages spoken), and nationality (there are more immigrants). Beyond these differences, there are also deeper cultural differences that influence the way conflict is approached.

The use of teams represents an important change in the way we work. The theory is that through the interdependency of the parts greater productivity is achieved by the whole. Experience has been less kind. One reason that teams fail to meet performance expectations is their paralysis through unresolved conflict. This article focuses on the impact of culture on the prevention and resolution of conflict in teams.

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Dear Startup Investor: Why You Need to Know about Conflict Before You Commit

Dear Startup Investor: Why You Need to Know about Conflict Before You Commit

The truth is that starting up is one thing, but staying alive is another. Research shows that half of new business startups fail within the first five years of operation, and over 60% fail due to negative outcomes from conflict. Noam Wasserman’s research on startups, described in his best-selling book The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup, reveals this: Most business startups ‘sink’ not because of lack of planning, failure to test the market or undercapitalization, but rather due to interpersonal complexities, destructive co-founder disputes, destructive team dynamics, and people problems.

Another truth is that conflict is a necessary part of successfully running a business. This is because conflict is a natural occurrence which can happen any time two or more individuals have different ideas, wants, and needs. Conflict is normal in any environment. However, if not properly managed, conflict can escalate into disagreement and become entrenched to a point of no return for a young, fragile business.

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Dealing with Difficult Behavior

Dealing with Difficult Behavior

Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. However, that does not mean that we cannot work to prevent unproductive behavior that leads to conflict. Difficult behavior is a good example of an area where a difference can be made. Although it is easy to label people as difficult, the real focus should always be on the actual behavior. Dealing effectively with difficult behavior is a skill that can nip conflict in the bud.

Difficult behavior is essentially that which inhibits the performance of others. Left alone it will get worse, affect more people and continue to incur hidden costs for the organization in which it occurs. Most difficult behavior is accidental, but it can also be the result of intentional thought. Sometimes it is sporadic and takes us by surprise. At other times it is ongoing and forms patterns.

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Organizational Conflict Management - What's a System?

Organizational Conflict Management - What's a System?

While conflict may be a constant, paradigms to explain conflict in organizations have changed. Systems thinking or chaos theory is the latest paradigm that has been used to understand organizational conflict. The demise of the mechanistic worldview allows us to contemplate how organizations deal with conflict through a fresh set of lenses.

The term "system" is widely used in the field of organizational conflict management. The Federal Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group recently sponsored a brown bag Session-"Growing Your ADR Program - Are You Ready for a System?"-that focused on examples of two agencies 'that are attempting to replace ADR programs with ADR systems.'

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The Leader’s Guide: How to Use Constructive Conflict as an Innovation Generator

The Leader’s Guide: How to Use Constructive Conflict as an Innovation Generator

This is the second in our series of Leader’s Guides on harnessing the power of conflict. Conflict, when well managed, can breathe life and energy into workplace relationships that inspire more productivity, creativity and innovation.

I talked in the previous article, The Leader’s Guide: The Key to Boosting Employee Engagement in Your Workplace: It’s Not What You Think, about what conflict is - a natural occurrence in a workplace that can either be a positive or a negative experience. And that a leader who sees conflict as a useful tool rather than a negative thing to avoid, helps increase employee engagement and the vibrant exchange of ideas that take your business on the innovation and growth path.

So how, as a leader, do you start to create the kind of organizational dynamics that harness the power of constructive conflict?  Read on...

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From Reaction to Response: Conflict As A Choice

From Reaction to Response: Conflict As A Choice

Once we embrace that conflict is inevitable in social relationships, the question we have to ask is “how do we respond?” Responsibly, we’d hope. Yet, for the most part, when we are in conflict, we are not very responsive, and tend to be reactive. Shifting to a responsive approach to conflict is easier said than done. When we are in conflict situations, we are typically being triggered and reverting to our unconscious conflict handling scripts.

What’s the difference between a responsive and a reactive approach? When we respond to the challenges of life-including our conflict situations-we take responsibility for our role in the situation, we are in tune with what we are feeling and why, and our thoughts, words and behaviors are conscious of the bigger picture. By contrast, when we react, we shift responsibility for the situation to the other through blame; we assume the victim role and are ‘justifiably’ carried away by powerful feelings like anger, fear and grief. We use an unconscious template for reaction that seeks acknowledgement, justice, restoration, and even revenge.

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Culture & Conflict: Keys to a Smoother Organizational Change Effort

Culture & Conflict: Keys to a Smoother Organizational Change Effort

Seasoned leaders know that the road to a successful change management process is not always a smooth one. Strategy, structure, tech, resources and capacity all may be in place and positioned for an effective effort. However, what are often missed are factors that can be crucial to success and that can blindside the unwary leader. In two words: Conflict and Culture.

Conflict is an inevitable part of change...

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The Role of Intuition in Conflict Resolution

The Role of Intuition in Conflict Resolution

There is no question that to resolve a conflict beyond a superficial level, the emotional energy that accompanies any conflict must be addressed. And yet how we go about working with emotions in conflict situations is not that clear. Some encourage a focus on forgiveness, while others point out that until the nasty reality of revenge is addressed, forgiveness will be illusionary. Some say we need to understand the neurobiology of emotion to respond and others say that all we have to do is listen actively.

In this article, I want to explore the role of intuition and suggest that at the heart of the work of conflict resolution, whether by professional mediators, or HR managers is our ability to sense what to do or not do, intervention wise. To do this, we first need to develop our capacity to sense through feeling and images. Secondly, and at a cognitive level, we need to develop rules of thumbs or what some call ‘heuristics’ to guide us in our interventions.

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What's the difference between Mediation and Toxic Triangulation?

What's the difference between Mediation and Toxic Triangulation?

The tendency to deflect responsibility is common in the workplace with employees blaming others while ignoring their own contribution to a problem. And when they are unable to address their challenge directly themselves, they often turn to third parties-typically those with some power to address the situation in their favor. Their narrative may reveal a victim mentality. Regardless, they want their perspective validated and something done.
 
If your company has an 'open door policy' employees may go above their supervisors head to address their concerns with someone higher up the chain of command. And from time to time employees do go to HR.
 
This is where you have to be careful, as there is a thin line between actions that are helpful and those that are not! 

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