Sunday, April 14, 2013

Workplace Dancing or Dueling: Two people, different steps, different outcomes

The other day I found myself in the situation where I had been asked to mediate a conflict  between two Line Managers. To put this situation into some sort of context, the breakdown in their working relationship had occurred over 18 months ago and had not been resolved. In their individual meetings with me, each said how they did not trust, respect or accept the others role.

What was interesting is that neither really appeared to realise the impact their poor working relationship was having on other members of their team and the organisation. They did no see how much loss in productively was occurring because of their unwillingness to see each other as legitimate. Both had a tendency to be dismissive of each others views and both held negative ‘stories and assessments’ that were damaging.

Underlying their workplace relationships where issues of:

•    Respect - acceptance and legitimacy
•    Trust - sincerity, competence and reliability
•    Concerns - what was important to them in this relationship and how well were their concerns being addressed
•    Coordination - cooperation to work together and making and managing their commitments of each other
•    Moods - the moods and emotions experienced in this relationship were anxiety, resentment and resignation
•    Conversations - the types that do and don’t happen and how many were happening over email
•    Appreciation - neither offered the other a sense of feeling valued and appreciated for their work efforts
•    Alignment - being committed to working in the same direction, this was dubious and unclear

How do you stop people from dueling rather than dancing? Lets start with what is common with these two practices – two people, agreements, movement, steps.

I invited them "to dance" with me, creating an environment where they could move together by taking constructive steps. I introduced them to the non-violent communication conflict resolution process developed by Marshall Rosenberg. In this process you ask people to:

•    Center themselves (including observing themselves)
•    Disclose their truth to the other
•    Listen to the truth of the other
•    Make agreements

I sensed at the end of the session that both were relieved. Apart from their plan to move forward, I also put  to you, like in a dual no one wants to 'give in', so my intervention enabled them both to keep face. Secondly, their poor workplace relationship was creating for them an ongoing mood of anxiety which negatively affects their well-being.

For a further conversation on managing workplace conflict contact

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