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Conflicts of Interest Blog by Vivian Scott
A smart guy and I are creating a webinar series for employees on the topic of conflict resolution. In the 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.
Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies. She spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing where she realized resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success. Through creative solutions to common conflicts she was able to bring various entities together, both internally and externally, for the betterment of projects and a productive working environment.
Prior to retiring from Microsoft in 1999 she developed the “America at Work” video series, a six-part program featuring small businesses employing technology in attention-grabbing ways. “America at Work” aired on the USA Network and received the Silver Screen Award from the International Film and Video Festival for outstanding creativity. Using discerning negotiation, mediation, and problem-solving skills, she successfully worked with others to co-create “How-to Guides”, “Seminar in a Box”, and even one of the first on-line Guerrilla Marketing books.
Since her retirement, Ms. Scott has gone on to earn a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a concentration in American Studies from the University of Washington. She completed an extensive practicum with the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties where she has mediated numerous cases, helping parties resolve conflict in workplace, family, and other disputes. Her private mediation practice has handled cases ranging from assisting business partners in ending their relationship to creating a new working environment within a law firm. Ms. Scott is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and spends a majority of her time advocating embracing peace in a volatile world.
Her book, Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies, can be found in bookstores, on www.amazon.com, www.dummies.com, or any number of on-line bookseller sites.
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