Conflict Resolution and Setting the Tone

Posted 2018-10-14 by David Theodorou
A hand stopping a set of falling dominoes to protect the rest of the dominoes

Conflict resolution will always be one of the more difficult things to manage when running a business. No matter what experiences you had at school, university or the corporate world - when everything rests on your shoulders, and the money you’re paying to team members is less money you’ll be seeing yourself, the emotions you may feel for this particular aspect of running a business is amplified greatly.

I was fortunate enough to attend the military college in Duntroon for almost the entirety of the course (I didn’t graduate), but in an environment that is entirely shaped around forming some of the world’s best leaders, you definitely learn a lot during your time there. When it comes to HR and people management - the main word that comes to mind for me is “expectations”. The Defence Force has a great way of really setting expectations of what you’re about to get yourself into when you join up. After you sign the dotted line, you go to boot camp! And that’s after you’ve passed through the grueling selection process. To be clear, boot camp sucks. Regimented discipline, group punishments and pain. All are the realities of what you experience within the first few weeks of your training in the military. (And I did it twice, once as a soldier, and once when becoming an officer!). Of course, boot camp isn’t the military, it’s the worst experience you’ll have in the military, however, it’s not a reflection on how your actual career will pan out. This is the brilliance of it though. You’ve started out with such a low bar of expectations, that every single bonus or handout you are given is treasured like a crumbly wet biscuit you’ve scavenged while being pelted by sideways rain and only being protected from the elements by a thin piece of rectangular plastic. Running a business though seems to be the opposite.

Without delving into an analysis that I’m certainly not qualified to give, my experience so far has been that the first few encounters with new staff is what will drive their passion and success for your business. But the expectation has to be set high. People seem to test the boundaries of any new environment they encounter - for instance, seeing how much youtube you can watch on a second monitor without getting called out on it. That certainly doesn’t mean that this person is a bad employee - all our workplaces give the vibe off that “Hey man, you can totallllllllllly watch youtube on your second monitor while you’re working, that’s totalllllllllly cool”, and I like that vibe, but that also isn’t cost effective to our business. You didn’t buy that second monitor so your staff can watch youtube, you bought it to increase company efficiency.

How you deal with this type of encounter really sets the tone for how successful you’ll be when you run your business. Being able to effectively instill discipline is an art form. And the best way to do it if you ask me? - is apply the rule of empathy. Explain the situation in a way that isn’t really confrontational, but is understandable. The ol’ “youtube on the second screen” issue, which I’m not going to lie I’ve had to deal with more than once, a hypothetical usually is a great way to approach it:

“Hey XXXXXX, curious, if you were running a company, would you want your staff to be watching videos on youtube on their second screen or pumping out a bit more work due to the efficiency dividend you’ve provided them by forking out the cash for that second screen?”

The answer is obvious - there is no way around it, and it’s kind of funny for other staff who are around who no doubt have noticed the guy or girl doing what they are doing.(And are no doubt waiting for the rains of fire to come down). This type of method is not that confrontational, and if you ask me is way better than the awkward “Hey XXXXXXX come see me in my office” conversation that you could have instead. Why is it better? Because these people are realistically people you’re going to be spending a lot of time with. You want to keep them on the same level so that, should something terrible happen, they feel comfortable to talk to you so you can both put out the fire. My experience says that being the person hidden in the back office, who’s only “there” when their voice booms out of the room needing to see somebody is the last person they will approach in that situation. Leading to a shitstorm that will fall on everyone.

In other words, by being one with the team, even when it comes to conflict, you’re actually protecting yourself from brewing disasters that you could have avoided if your staff felt comfortable talking to you.

Peace and Love

David

Astronaut looking at phone while sitting on a ringed planet.

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