Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D.
Effective leadership hinges on how you handle the tough stuff. Conflict doesn’t have to be stressful. Tense conversations carry a high emotional load and many people seek to avoid them. The fact of the matter is, avoiding a problem usually makes the issue or situation worse. Whether a manager or subordinate, difficult conversations and conflict must be managed. If you are one of those people that shy away from conflict, you just might be contributing to your organization’s dysfunction. Conflict is necessary for organizations to function effectively. It is a signal that members are engaged, able to synthesize diverse perspectives and seek consensus in the decision-making process. Conflict is a signal that the organization is vibrant and moving forward. However, it can also be a sign of a problem or destructive behaviors that must be addressed.
From a managerial perspective, delivering bad news is difficult for both parties. The deliverer is tense, and the listener is apprehensive. It is not always possible to be “nice” in conflict situations since the underlying causes of such issues are complex, nuanced and politically charged.
The next time you encounter a difficult situation at work, remember these do’s and don’ts of being “nice”:
Do be clear but empathetic. You should have an idea of the outcome you desire but still try to understand the other person’s point of view. It will help to understand the others’ objectives and orientations toward the issue. However, if you have a good reason for saying no, stick with it.
Do keep your enemies close. Like the old adage says, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Although the tendency is to avoid those individuals that make us uncomfortable, you need to know what others are thinking and doing — whether you like them or not.
Do ask about the impact. The team should thoroughly think through the implications of their decisions. Demonstrate that you are open to listening to all ideas and their resulting impacts so that people know you are open-minded. But, in the end, if you are the leader, you will have to make the tough decisions.
Do be neutral and stay on topic. Provide sound reasoning for saying no. Keep your language neutral and noninflammatory, but make sure that you communicate that an open discussion is permissible.
Do restate your intentions. Stay focused on the most essential issues and objectives. It’s easy to become emotional and lose sight of the real issue.
Don’t be a cognitive miser. As human information processors, we are limited in our capacity to hold and process emotions and information. We have a tendency to preserve cognitive resources and allocate them to perceived significant matters. And these resources are spread thinner and thinner as demands on our time and attention increase. Our tendency is to focus on a few attributes of the person we are dealing with, not on the complicated entirety of the situation.
Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. Again, stay focused on the issues that really matter and let the rest go.
Don’t give false hope. If you know that you will not change your mind, then be honest. If you say no tentatively, then your counterpart may misinterpret and believe that things might change. Providing false hope can undermine trust and damage your relationship.
Above all, be true to your self. Use language that is natural for you. This requires forethought and lots of practice!
Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D., is a professor of management and associate dean of the College of Business at Missouri State University. Rozell also holds the Kenneth E. Meyer Professorship and is director of the MBA program. Her specialties include organizational behavior, leadership and emotional intelligence. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the June 18, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader. It is available online here.