Your Dispute Resolution Questions / Our Answers
Thank you for submitting your questions regarding dispute resolution in the workplace to Colorado NDR. Our responses are below.
No Team Member Wants to Help
This is a great website, but I don’t think it’s very realistic. I’m really trying to get employees to get along with each other. It seems the more I try to foster friendships, the more alienated they become from one another. I don’t think it’s possible.
We think you’ve hit the nail on the head! We shouldn’t suggest that all employee groups are able to work effectively with each other. Yours is a perfect example. We see your good intensions for team development frustration caused by continued antagonism. We imagine that you (and your team) are at wits end.
Not knowing the entire story, we suspect the personality dynamics are a significant barrier. If this is the case, read on. If not – give us a little more history.
This one we are going to rely on Dr. Judith Orloff in her article 5 Difficult Workplace Types and How to Get Them to Cooperate (link referenced). Now, while we don’t agree with Dr. Orloff in all situations, we applaud her treatment of a very touchy situation – as described by our reader, of the need to understand the broad range of personality types:
(Agree) Narcissist: These types have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave attention, and require endless praise. Some are obnoxious ego-maniacs, others can be quite charming. Both types know how to belittle you and make you serve them.
First, let go of the belief that you can win them over with loyalty and love. Narcissists value control and power over love, and they lack empathy. Next, don’t make your self-worth dependent on them. Seek out supportive coworkers and colleagues instead.
Finally, to get your goals met with narcissists, frame your request in ways they can hear–such as showing them how your request will be beneficial to them. Ego stroking and flattery also work.
(Really Agree) Passive-Aggressive Coworker: These types express anger while they’re smiling or showing exaggerated concern. They always maintain their cool, even if through clenched teeth.
Start by trusting your gut reactions and the feeling that their behavior feels hurtful. Say to yourself, “I deserve to be treated better and with more respect.”
If the person is someone you can speak directly with–a team member as opposed to a boss–address the behavior specifically and directly. You could say, for example, “I would greatly appreciate it if you remembered our meeting time. My time’s very valuable, as is yours.”
If the person doesn’t or won’t change, you can decide whether to accept their behavior or not.
(We absolutely agree) The Gossip: Gossipy busybodies delight in talking about others behind their backs, putting them down, and spreading harmful rumors. They also love to draw others into their toxic conversations.
Start by letting go of your need to please everyone or control what they say. Then be direct. Say, “Your comments are inconsiderate and hurtful. How would you like people talking about you like that?”
You can also refuse to participate by simply changing the subject. Don’t share intimate information with gossip mongers.
And finally, don’t take gossip personally. Realize that gossips aren’t happy or secure. Do what you can to rise to a higher place, and ignore them.
(Somewhat Agree) The Anger Addict: Rageaholics deal with conflict by accusing, attacking, humiliating, or criticizing. Let go of your reactivity. Take a few short breaths to relax your body. Count to 10. Pause before you speak.
If they’re spewing verbal venom at you, imagine that you’re transparent and their words are going right through you. To disarm an anger addict, acknowledge their position, and then politely say you have a slightly different approach you’d like to share.
Request a small, doable change that can meet your need. Then clarify how it will benefit the relationship. Finally, empathize. Ask yourself what pain or inadequacy might be making this person act so angry.
- (Our only suggestion is not to accommodate the “Anger Addict”. We’ve seen too many office settings held hostage to an individual who uses anger to accomplish goals – bad form. We like the exercise in managing our own reaction – but draw the line at allowing anger issues dictate office procedure.)
(Don’t Agree) The Guilt Tripper: These workplace types are world-class blamers, martyrs, and drama queens. They know how to make you feel terrible about something by pressing your insecurity buttons.
Start by surrendering the notion that you have to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, so if the guilt tripper is scolding you, you can simply apologize or take responsibility, and that will shut them down.
If you need to, find a safe place to cry. Tears will cleanse the stress and help you heal. Also, know your guilt buttons. If there’s something you feel bad about, you can work on being compassionate with yourself so you’ll feel stronger when this difficult coworker tries to push that particular button.
Finally, set limits with the guilt tripper. Tell them you can see their point of view, but that it hurts your feelings when they say those things, and you’d be grateful if they stopped saying it.
- This individual is nefarious. We don’t agree that letting the “guilt tripper” know they hurt you and that you would be grateful if they stopped, will improve conditions. We suggest, based upon our experience, it will most likely increase their methods of ridicule. Point in fact – we had a participant who reported that each morning a co-worker would make a point of stopping by and saying loudly “Oh, you are here.” She was always on time and never left late – but the co-worker was successful in spreading the suspicion about her tardiness. We see no value in telling the individual “it hurts” what we do see of value is taking it to HR, Director, Manager or all three.)
Many thanks to Dr. Judith Orloff, “5 Difficult Workplace Types & How to Get Them to
I don’t have a question as much as an observation. It seems that when clicks form in the office, there is always one person or group of people that are targeted for ridicule. You’ve talked about team building – but what happens when those “teams” become clicks?
Thanks for the comment. Don’t dismiss team building just yet. You’ve made an important observation. Part of the survival mode is to gain identity. By building an identity exclusion becomes a process. Think of when you went to your last sporting event. Did you wear team colors, sit in the appropriate section at the stadium, and chant the correct verse? Probably so, and by doing so, you were excluding the non-group members.
The idea of team building is to build recognition of the company as the team. The popular misconception is that team building for the accounting group (for example) will be at the exclusion of the sales group. You see where we’re going with this. Cliques are factions that function to exclude certain members. The goal of strengthening the “team” is to get the entire corporation on the same page with goals and objectives. A win for the company is a win for the team.
Building a cohesive team (as opposed to cliques) calls for each member getting to know one another better by building empathy and understanding. It also calls for aligning the group with a shared goal or purpose. And finally, the establishment of a positive business culture based on shared beliefs and values becomes company behavior.
Can you turn off hate?
I hate my co-worker. She is self-centered and rude. I have to work with her, but I can’t stand her. I feel guilty and knowing what’s in my thoughts shocking. I find myself wishing she’d get in a car accident or move to a different town. I don’t even want to like her, but it’s depressing hating someone so much. What do I do?
Great Question –
Can you eliminate hate from your life? Immediately the short answer is no – long term, the answer is yes, through process. Let’s face it, unless you’re the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa or Pope Francis, putting the dislike of another aside immediately is nearly impossible. Being able to will yourself to understand, forgive, respect and like someone you find distasteful may be a thing of fancy. But it’s not only possible, you’ve probably put aside hate many times in your life.
We ask you to think of a good friend or acquaintance who was originally an enemy. It happens. Think back to a relationship (work, friendship, or sibling) that started out rocky and has evolved to a close relationship. It didn’t happen overnight. Siblings are our favorite example. We often ask adults if they have a good relationship with their brother or sisters, then ask further how the relationship was in adolescence. We’ve heard some horror stories.
Can you remember a school mate that began as an arch nemesis, and who evolved to a good friend – or better yet, a boyfriend or girlfriend?? A community member that you misunderstood but was able to understand – once you got to know them? Examples in your life are many.
What happened? Truth is, in 99.9% of the cases, shared experiences happened. Siblings grow up and share interests, childhood enemies are joined by a common interest, goal or enemy. The message here is to not feel bad because you cannot automatically turn off your hate button. It takes time, communication, understanding and shared thoughts or goals.
It takes being true to yourself by not feigning acceptance but acknowledging the need to find some common ground to build upon. We’ll be talking more about this issue in April – so stay tuned.
Readers – what do you think?
We have a supervisor that is a liar and a dictator. Before being assigned to our department, she was an administrative assistant in purchasing. We know that she lied about prior experience and may have had an affair with the president. All of a sudden she’s our supervisor. We are being blamed for her mistakes because she knows nothing about how our department works. We all need our jobs, so going to HR or even the president is not an option. Going to work is pure hell for all of us. What can we do?
Not knowing the full story with specifics from all sides, this is certainly not a question that can be answered in this type of column. We wish we could tell you there is one easy answer – but there is no one answer, and none of them are easy. We’d like to ask you to stop to note all the individuals involved, their position and possible motives beliefs. Speculation as to others’ perspective is easy – truly exploring and learning takes time. Communication is a start.
As emotional as this situation has become, the first task is to make a thorough historical review of your department without personal commentary for period by period comparison. A true and accurate account of production change on a year by year (or time period by related time period) is the first step for discussion. Include numerical accounts and comparisons of issues such as customer complaints, production errors, compliance infractions – actual factual reporting. Is this business weakness or relationship weakness?
The certainty is that there is office conflict. It is in everyone’s best interest (clients first) to heal the department. It may be productive to request time with HR, director or president that is chaired by a non-biased mediator. Conflicts can be resolved. You’re taking the first step.
No Win Situation for Promotion
Our district office has an internal conflict between two individuals who are in line for promotion to the same position. Both have very similar job responsibilities. As manager of the department I interact with each employee daily. I know that both have the ultimate goal of being promoted to a position that would make them the other’s supervisor. The promotional process is pretty structured and unfortunately, my input as to selection in 6 months will be limited.
My fear is that this competition has ruined a friendly office and will further destroy working relationships when one of the two are chosen for copy editor. What should I be doing to prepare the office for these changes? Both are talented employees but are quickly proving that they cannot and will not work together.
Communication, communication, communication
It sounds as if you may have ideas or thoughts about how corporate could be handling the promotion process. Now is the time to work closely with HR and your manager team. It may be possible off site management is not aware of the dynamics. Don’t leave the issues with your fears – follow up with insight and suggestions. How do you see this process best played out?
This is a classic example of the value of proactive planning. You’ve already identified dispute elements that will result when one employee is promoted and the other is not promoted. Being proactive has another valuable component over and above identifying potential conflict, and that is engaging the group in planning. This is not a time to caucus one-on-one with each side. To do so may give the impression of collusion. Bring both sides to the table and brainstorm. For example, it is no secret that a promotion is in the future. Where does each side see the department in the next 1-5 years? Shared ideas and objectives may produce mutual understanding. Expect competition – but also expect discovery!
What are the views of “what will/should be” from both sides? Discuss as many scenarios as possible. Not all have to be conventional. Are you going to get consensus? Probably not. But what you will achieve is a broader outlook for each valued employee and most likely some very powerful ideas.
Sometime the objective is not agreement – it is understanding.
Excellent Employee – but…………
I have a small service finance business that requires a personal touch with clients. We have 200 clients and pride ourselves with knowing each client. My problems is my office manager who is excellent in running an efficient office. The problem arises with her people skills. She is gruff to the point of being rude. I have visited with her about this and even sent her to customer service training classes offered by the community college – no change. Ironically, there are certain clients she gets along with fine. She even jokes with some of these clients. But others, she acts like a dictator. I don’t think her actions are to be mean – she just dislikes certain people. No matter how I plead, threaten, and even try to bribe, she will not change her attitude.
I see this preventing us from growing our business and hurting our reputation. Her treatment is well known in our community. I’m to the point where I’m contemplating letting her go. It’s a shame, because she knows this business inside and out. Any suggestions on courses, boot camps, training?
Our first question is: Does her role require client contact? Try to imagine having to face an emotional roadblock every day. It may be that your administrator, basically stated, is not a people person. In small offices, it is particularly difficult when team members have to fill the role of many.
You’ve already indicated that you’ve used customer training to help this employee develop skills. Sometimes business owners also need a “brush up” on how to develop employees. Pleading and threatening someone in this position could be similar to speaking to a brick wall. Take a moment for a great read: https://hbr.org/2005/03/what-great-managers-do . The key message of your letter is that your employee is “excellent”. Hone in on what the HBR sees as the “Three Levers” to identify not only strengths of your employee…..but the triggers that activate strengths!
You may be a member an employers group. If so, use resources available on cultivating great talent. We’ll be devoting the month of February to this important topic. Stay tuned.
When Do You Know Your Employee Will Never be an Asset?
We have done everything to help a new (3 years) employee fit in and grow professionally as our office manager. We’ve provided professional education and certification, sent her to San Diego for industry training (paid for flights, meals and accommodation for her and her sister). We try to include her in office social events and pay salary during time away for university finals week, Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Elementary projects that take time are met with multiple questions of the partners and willingness to either forego or hand off to one of the partners. The zinger came this week when she told us she does not return coffee cups to the coffee area because of “boundary issues”. It appears to me she does not aspire to be a part of the office. The office actually runs smoother when she is away. We participated in a work environment personalisis test and try to structure her work according to her strengths.
She is a sweet single mother working hard to finish a 4 year degree. She has the potential to be a valuable part of the office but after 3 years she is not where we had hoped. After writing this – I think I’ve answered my question.
There must be some reason you and your partner have kept her on the payroll.
This is a problem many small offices face. It is much easier to hire staff than to release staff. But before you do, we ask you to try one additional approach. Sometimes young hires lack basic maturity. In some cases they have come from a home environment that has not fostered a work ethic IQ. They know they need to show up for work – but not how to embrace the position. It may also be she expects more from an entry level position. It may be worth while to create a dialogue based upon your grievance / her grievance and review of your expectations / her expectations.
Kathleen Bradley (2010) addressed the process of leadership development in law practices. The process is text book and we see your commitment in the areas of opportunity, flexibility education and recognition. Areas you may want to review / address are:
* Continuous tracking of employee engagement – transformational leaders may give too much flexibility to the employee neglecting important measurements. Set goals, measurements and track progress.
* Open and effective communication. Structured office meetings are absolutely essential. However, do not forget the powerful one-on-one meetings. Have a topic/agenda and be prepared to listen.
We hope this helps – you have invested considerable time and effort in this young employee. It may be well worthwhile to incorporate tracking and one-on-one communication before you make the change. Please keep in touch. Your problem is shared by many!
Bradley, Kathleen. (2010). Leadership development: Should your firm invest in growing its leaders? Law Practice, 36(5), 38