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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The best guide for Conflict Resolution (part 1)


While almost anyone can lead or manage when everything is fine, real leaders are the ones who persevere even when things are difficult. Therefore, conflict resolution is a very important skill for leaders to have.

Conflict is a natural and normal part of life and work. It is not necessarily a sign of a poorly managed team, but it can be. Conflict can also have a negative impact on productivity and morale when it’s not addressed effectively and efficiently. It’s essential that, as a leader, you address conflict issues right away and handle situations correctly so that everyone’s integrity remains intact.

Defining Boundaries

Understanding and acknowledging psychological boundaries – what you will and will not tolerate in a relationship or what your responsibilities are - is the first step in resolving conflicts that may arise.

It’s important that you understand your own boundaries and responsibilities as well as those of your colleagues and your staff, because overstepping them can lead to unexpressed hostility and conflict. When basic conflicts aren’t resolved it is difficult, if not impossible, to develop trust and good interpersonal relationships at work.

As a leader or manager, you are responsible for clearly defining your staff’s job responsibilities, authority and decision-making boundaries. This should be clearly outlined in their job descriptions. You can further clarify boundaries through informal discussions, team building, negotiation and mediation. When boundary issues arise – for example, who has seniority on a project, who has responsibility for a series, or how much authority can be delegated and to whom – you should address them immediately.

People who aren’t competent communicators probably won’t talk about their psychological boundaries. You can try to get this information by asking questions such as, “Is this okay with you?” or “Do you mind doing it this way or would you prefer we do this another way?”

Flexible and Rigid Boundaries

People with flexible or weak boundaries tend to let others infringe on them. For instance, someone might agree to take on a project when she knows she doesn’t have time. Instead of making this clear to the person who asked her to take the assignment, she becomes resentful, a passive/aggressive response. These negative feelings usually emerge later and often come out more intensely.

Those with rigid boundaries keep others at a distance. They often withdraw, either emotionally or physically, have a hard time trusting others and can make communication difficult. For example, a supervisor who secludes herself in her office every day, only interacting with her colleagues when absolutely necessary, can leave her staff confused, angry or lacking direction. Likewise, an employee who never interacts with coworkers or does so inadequately, inappropriately or negatively may also be demonstrating rigid boundaries.

It can be challenging to develop positive work relationships with people who have rigid boundaries. These people may negatively impact teamwork. As a leader, you should recognize that this type of person may have trouble handling unexpected occurrences or assignments and may get angry when her boundaries are crossed.

If someone you supervise has rigid boundaries, your best options for dealing with her are:

Model another type of behavior. If you develop a relationship with this person based on honesty and openness, this will give her a model for a trusting relationship. This is important for the welfare of the whole group.
Don’t let this person mistreat other team members. You must intercede if this person exhibits behavior destructive to the overall productivity and morale of the team. By intervening, you send a message to the entire team that you, their leader, will take action to protect them from threats to their overall success.

Crossing Boundaries
To help you successfully resolve conflicts, you’ll need to determine if a problem comes from boundaries being crossed. Boundaries can be crossed in any number of ways, such as:

Giving someone direction or instructions when she doesn't see herself as subordinate to you;
Not acknowledging someone’s contributions or not treating her in the same way you treat the contributions of others;
Speaking to someone in a way she feels is inappropriate or unwarranted;
Telling someone they are wrong when they don’t think it is your position to do so.

There are certainly other ways in which boundaries can be crossed, but you will get to know your team as you work with them and get to know where there might be problems or conflicts.

Cheers to success

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