Witness of conflicts

A lot is said about staff motivation and given the complexity of it one can easily overlook or underestimate the role that the team collaboration and understanding plays (going beyond managers). Conflicts can emerge in daily work but it seems like often enough they are handled poorly by team members so much so that at times customers become the witness to heated dialogues.

I had the "chance" to experience this twice in the space of a few hours. First, I was ordering a coffee when a customer approached the bartender to ask for the wi-fi password. The man replied by explaining that it's the same as the name of the network and then he added it's also written on the menu. That was a satisfactory answer for the client who smiled largely and left quickly; however, the colleague who overheard the short dialogue was of a different opinion and wasn't shy to voice it in an ironic tone. It was an unpleasant moment for the bartender and a rather uncomfortable waiting for me. A few hours later I was in a book shop and, long story short, two staff members were openly commenting and sharing their frustrations about another one of their colleagues as I was standing in between them waiting to pay.

A couple of days later, I paid a visit to the bank and there I first spoke with a new employee who did not know how to help me. His colleague offered to guide him so that he takes the opportunity to pick up something new and yet the trainee denied help and instead directed me to go and speak with his colleague. On my way back I stopped to buy a coffee and I was served whilst two team members were having a very intense argument (literally shouting at each other).

In all instances I was treated nicely and yet I was left with an experience I remember for the "wrong" reasons. Customer experience is easy to stain and we often stress staff engagement as an important facilitator. For small and big companies is important to make an effort to understand their team members and to empower them to understand each other.

The way we communicate our difference of opinion will determine whether we will have collaborative relationships or whether these will result in endless discussions, blaming, rivalries, frustrations etc Although we are genuinely believing in our opinions we often end up failing to get our message across as well as misunderstanding others.

Whether as a company you are using OKRs, KPIs, North Star metrics or anything else to communicate your ambitions, you will need teams to work together. Silos (departments who can't collaborate effectively) are a natural consequence of people failing to overcome the differences between them.

Choice of words makes the difference between what is perceived as a critical statement and what is considered valid or even valuable feedback. The mindset and our presumptions are also unhelpful at times as we might be tended to find someone to blame. What is more, such skills are easy to build and their use goes beyond business environment (indeed, I hope that one day they will be taught in school). Neuro Linguistic Programming has shown that wording and thinking are tight in and we owe to use it adequately if we want to avoid unwanted consequences.

Somehow ironically, many parents nowadays are familiar with tips as to how best to communicate with their children (eg. Avoid "but", avoid "why", use metaphors, give choices etc) and yet I wasn't aware up until delving into NLP that they are equally helpful with anyone.

For example in providing feedback or expressing counter opinions we can start by acknowledging the other's point of view and adding our input or use counterexamples to nudge one to see the issue at hand from a different angle. In doing this we move from expressing our disapproval to providing an input. We are not attacking, we are opening conversation or adding a different dimension to consider.

On a similar note, I encourage you to avoid as much as possible "Why" questions; reconsider what you want to query so that you can use for example "How" or "What". In doing so you are also likely forced to consider the outcome frame and as a result the discussion will become more constructive rather than risking a defensive dialogue (eg how can we ensure you learn everything you have to?" rather than "why don't you want to try it yourself?"). On the same vein, seek to formulate your comments positively instead of emphasizing what you do not want and use questions to open discussion instead of making statements eg. "It's not feasible" vs "How can this work?"

Seek to understand before being understood. Avoid open criticism by minding your language, focusing on what you want, breaking down the problem instead of generalizing. These are just a few simple tips (Neuro-Linguistic Programming has built great instruments in this respect) that come handy and which help strengthen rather than alienate relationships.


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