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7 Steps to Resolving Conflict with a Team Member the Right Way

I lead the wonderful dual life of business coach and full time corporate manager. As it turns out; this duality helps manage each respective side better. Here’s a story that demonstrates this perfectly.
A colleague at my day job complained about me to my boss about her dissatisfaction with my role on a project we were working on. It was a huge surprise since the Complainer sits a few feet outside my office several days a week and never expressed her frustration and concern with the project we were working on to me personally.
It takes a lot for a person to go above someone’s head and complain to their boss, wouldn’t you agree? The frustration and helplessness must’ve built to this last resort drastic action.
Wanting resolution right away, I mistakenly thought that I could casually mention the issue in an email about another project to the Complainer. Wrong move…
Worse yet—I copied my boss on the email since he had agreed that it would be ok to mention it to her on email.
Let me tell you what happened after that– the situation got worse. The Complainer wrote a scathing love letter to me and yes—copying my boss, listing points on why she was right and I was wrong. Finger pointing and blame as well as exasperation were evident in her novella.
Where does it go from here?
In Tim Sanders’ book ‘Likeability Factor’, he talks about the fact that success in business is linked to something called well..the Likeability Factor. Some questions that determine this factor score are (1):

  • I maintain a positive, optimistic attitude even when things are going very badly
  • I build others’ self-confidence and make them feel good about themselves
  • Others see me as completely honest, trustworthy, sincere and genuine

On the Unlikeability score, some criteria questions are:

  • There are times when I’m not completely honest with people
  • I am critical and intolerant of others
  • I lose my temper

In his book, Sanders provides statistical data to underscore his point about success being linked to being liked by others through these examples:

  • An emotionally attractive salesperson will sell 40% more in gross sales than a neutral person.
  • Malpractice insurance analysis reveals that doctors people like get sued 10-65% less than those who are not liked

According to Sanders’ theory and criteria questions, I will presume that complaining to someone’s boss while refusing to handle the issue directly can cause a loss of faith, trust and certainly a loss of affection for the Complainer.
How can I ensure that my behaviour in response to this complaint can check all the right boxes in the Likeability Score questions?

Resolve Office Conflict the Right Way

Here are the lessons I learned from this episode this week:

  1. When someone complains about you to your boss, ride what leadership guru Sam Horne calls, the A-Train: Agree, Apologize and Act (2)
  • Agree: Even if you feel that fault lies entirely with the other person, remember the Likeability Factor theory that suggests proving yourself right won’t make anyone like you more. HOW you handle this sticky situation can and will position you as likeable and honest. So even if it’s not your fault, agree with the Complainer that there is an issue. Remember, somebody else’s perception is their reality.
  • Apologize: The mere fact that this situation has been brought to a higher level manager’s attention means the issue is costing the company time. Acknowledge at least that it is a nuisance for the parties concerned and apologize for that. For my part, I personally strive to be likeable and approachable so in our next conversation with the Complainer, I will be apologizing for not having developed the kind of dialogue where she felt she could talk directly to me about the issue. It takes two to create a situation, after all.
  • Act: Commit to acting towards a solution together. Go face to face with your complainer to work out a set of rules or criteria to prevent the same thing from happening again.
  1. Learn something from what happened
  • Insanity is defined as continuing to do the same things over and over again while expecting different results. If this situation happened, what do you need to do differently so that it doesn’t re-occur?
  1. Cover your back. Make sure to have an offline discussion with your boss to:
  • Clear up what happened
  • Explain why you think this had to come to him
  • Talk about what wrong actions you may have taken and what actions you will take for a solution
  • Never complain about the Complainer, this is just a headache for your boss. Instead, offer solutions to make his job easier.
  • Always have a positive, can-do attitude rather than an angry, hurt and sour one. It isn’t fun to have someone complain about you, but as I’ve noted above, HOW you handle this will set you apart from the pack.
  1. Smooth out the ruffled feathers. My personal view on people who seek conflict is that they are troubled inside. They can lose their tempers, not smile as often, and be argumentative and intolerant of others.The surest way to turn these lost souls around is surprisingly by way of kindness and gentleness. I have several cases of living proof where I’ve developed very successful relationships with difficult personalities.If you can muster up niceness to a person who complained about you, it will be a testament to your personal growth and you will see the benefits in your work and personal life.
  2. Never resolve conflict over email or voicemail. Had I gone straight to the Complainer after my boss told me about the complaint, this would’ve already been resolved and no further communication would’ve needed to take place on it. Trying to resolve by email is the easy way out. I myself simply forgot the golden rule and didn’t think the issue warranted a face to face since it was so insignificant in scope. I’ve since learned (again) that no issue, big or small can be resolved online when human emotions are concerned.
  3. Don’t drag anyone else into your conflict. Once my boss told me about the complaint, I should’ve asked him for permission to handle it myself after clearing the situation with him. After resolution, a simple update for him would’ve been way better than the meeting he had to personally set up to now resolve the issue.
  4. Try to head off complaints. If you see frustrations or conflict building on a team or with an individual, have a one on one talk with the person to resolve issues before the complaint is lodged. Calmer heads will prevail.

This lesson has been invaluable to me as a Coach because it keeps me in touch with the exact every day occurrences that my clients have to face. It also brushes up my skills as a communicator who develops herself and the people around herself constantly.
The end result that you always want is to keep your Likeability Factor score high. After all, it feels much better inside to boost that score than to keep count of the complaints lodged against you, doesn’t it?
With kindness as always,

(1) Source: www.timsanders.com
(2) Source: Tongue Fu!®

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