How to Handle Workplace Disagreements
Jan Fox has spent her career dabbling with 15 different general managers, allowing her to see how conflict can be a tug of war. Yet, in the typical workplace, she says it is better to find a resolution with an employee who shows signs of conflict.
The process of firing someone, hiring a new person and training that person to the same level as the previous employee can be very time consuming, Fox says. Instead of spending more money and time through the firing and hiring process, leaders can try to de-escalate workplace conflict through both body and verbal language.
Fox says she once entered a job in which she was older than her manager. She was placed in the position by someone else in the company and, under different circumstances, would not have been the manager’s first choice for an assistant, who made that very clear.
She realized she had two options: complain about his backhanded remarks or find a way to work together. Fox says she chose the latter. How did she do it? She employed her method of EVA (empathy, vulnerability, advocacy) to help de-escalate difficult situations.
Fox, speaker, author and coach of Fox Talks, has since taught audiences how to best use language to bring about a resolution to a workplace conflict.
Now, she shares her approach to staying cool in the face of conflict and, in return, gaining more positive office attitudes.
As told to Melissa Steinken
Watch for warning signs.
A person might be hunched over and stomping around the workspace. These can be signs that an employee is having trouble in the workplace. Look for staff that often give shrugs to others and avoid eye contact.
Be careful of your own body language.
Impressions can also be given off by managers or other leaders. If an employee is talking and you do not like the conversation, avoid rolling your eyes or sighing. As soon as those things happen, an employee can be turned off from ever approaching the subject again.
Stand in an open stance with your arms loosely held at your side. Do not cross arms or tuck them into your chest. And, make eye contact with the person.
Remember to use empathy.
The first letter in EVA Empathy stands for “empathy.” If an employee is complaining, listen and then use phrases like, “I get it,” “I hear you,” and, “I know you’re in a tough spot.”
After listening with the goal to understand the situation, the boss will receive clues as to what the real issue is for the staff.
Be vulnerable in the conversation.
The “V” stands for “vulnerability.” After listening to the staff, offer up information about past mistakes or challenges you have had. Say, “Look here, I have been where you are and I know it is not easy,”, and, “I couldn’t get along with my boss for a while, as well.”
Advocate for the employee to change.
The “A” in EVA Empathy stands for “advocacy.” After you have followed the previous two steps, you can relate to the employee that you both are on the right path to coming to a resolution.
Say, “Look, we’re on the right track,” and, “We can do this and figure out the right path.”
Use silence as tool.
Silence is absolutely critical. Sometimes the employee will say up front they don’t want to hear what the boss has to say. Use silence and listen instead of talking. Then, you can take the time to hear more about the problem and clues to the issue.
Stop using the phrase, “Yeah, but…”
When the phrase, “Yeah, but...” is used, it prevents staff from bridging gaps in the office. Sometimes office conflict can arise when there is a disconnect or miscommunication between an employee and a level of management.
This clash of words can end up producing a division of the office, with each side thinking he or she is right and not willing to listen.
Listen and speak respectfully.
Remember to speak truthfully and to be respectful in this situation. You need to have authenticity above all else and be true to the resolution you’d like to see.
A way to show you were respectfully listening is to repeat back what the other person says.
Practice this approach every day.
You can even set up teams for improving the overall attitude of the workplace. Create small teams and practice fake scenarios while using the EVA Empathy approach.
At daily meetings, make it a priority to learn more about each employee. As a preemptive solution to another conflict in the workplace, learn more about each employee’s personal background to bring the team closer together.