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Anger Awareness week; how to avoid conflict in the workplace

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December 1st 2020 marks the start of Anger Awareness Week, and it really got me thinking about anger and conflict in the workplace. 

Unfortunately, too many of us experience anger and unhelpful disagreements in their working life. But this way of working need not be the norm. Far from it in fact. Rather, I would contend that one never needs to experience conflict or arguments in the workplace. Because if employees and leaders alike follow some simple processes and – instead of focusing on blame – they embrace robust problem solving, they can actually eliminate issues early on, well before they become something bigger. This will therefore remove the potential for conflict altogether and ultimately result in a happy and engaged team. 

Here are my top tips to avoid anger and unnecessary conflict in the workplace: 

Find the gap

Identify the gap between what the current situation is and what the end goal vision should be. This will help you to understand and define the problem as well as starting to build out a step by step action plan focussing on something to work towards. 

Removing the blame culture

Blame is never part of true problem solving. Although it is about recognising what went wrong. Rather, problem solving involves individual opinions which can differ, but should always be based on considered and substantiated data. The moment everyone in the team understands this the foundation has been laid for real robust discussions. 

Finding the true root cause

Basing your discussions of what went wrong and, on the data, involves getting to the true root cause. People often tend to think about a solution to a problem, rather than thinking about why the problem actually happened in the first place. This can mean people often jump to conclusions. This is where we start to see the blame culture rearing its ugly head and emotions running high. Focusing on the root cause of the problem will avoid this altogether. Once you get to root cause, those involved in the discussion cannot hide from the truth. This means you can get buy-in from all parties and move on from there. 

Information gathering

Use the simple tool of ‘5W2H’ to help identity the problem. If you haven’t come across this abbreviation, the 5W2H simply stands for asking the following questions; Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and How much/many? Once you answer all those questions as a team and together you can start to define what the issue is. This tool can also help with action planning.

Listening 

Listening will be essential to getting to this root cause. The key here is to actually listen to all stakeholders involved, absorb that content and then play that content back to the team involved to ensure you are all aligned. Do not listen merely to craft your response. Listening is a true skill in itself and can pay dividends to a team long term.  

A team game 

We have become very apt at walking away from problems when what we need to do is to start running towards them. It’s only by facing up to problems that we get an opportunity to resolve then and improve things. Problem solving is everyone’s responsibility, no matter what their role or indeed level within the team. More often than not we find that people don’t see problem solving as part of their core responsibility, but in order for this process to work, this perception needs to change. As such the process must be equally owned by the whole team, not one individual and possibly  not one in a leadership position who may sometimes monopolise the discussion. 

Back with data 

Each step in your process must be backed up with data. This is your key source of information and is what keeps the process objective, fact based and steers it well clear of any form of emotion. If disagreement creeps in, go back to the data and revisit that step. 

Use logic and fact 

If you know what the problem is, you can look to a solution in a pragmatic way. Problem solving is such a logical process when you do it this way. This means that all conflict should fall away as the process should speak for itself. 

Retrace your steps if it’s not working

If you’re dealing with someone who is steadfast in their belief or not listening to the facts, or indeed if the process isn’t working for any other reason, you will need to go back over the steps. Listen to what the team are saying as much as possible. Keep repeating steps until the process is robust and wholly based on data and fact.  

Make it sustainable

Once you have implemented a solution, you will need to make sure it is sustainable long term. Consider what else you can do to embed the solution and where else it can be applied. Document the journey you have gone on with the team to ensure you can learn from it for the next time. Most importantly celebrate your success as a team and ensure everyone is aware of the achievement and the part they played in this process. This is a big step and should be celebrated. 

By following a robust problem-solving process like this, a team should be able to avoid emotive conflicts, and indeed feeling angry, all together. Not only will this result in a stronger happier team, it will also increase your employee engagement, ensure your team are motivated in their roles and ensure you get the best outcomes for business success. 

Putting the focus on the facts only and not the individuals is key to disagreeing professionally but reaching a successful consensus; why not give it a try?

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