Negotiating Among Workplace Dictators
Five Measures Leadership Should Consider to Address Vilification
Is there room to negotiate with workplace dictators? In this article, the author discusses how to approach seemingly impossible workplace conflicts. The aim of every organization should be to provide a workplace where respect enables staff and key employees to serve customers, and the mission and vision are realized.
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â€śYou wouldnâ€™t negotiate with Hitler, would you?â€ť was Michelleâ€™s response to my invitation to help her address some long brewing workplace disagreements with her supervisor, Kaylie.Â Michelle was equating her colleagueâ€”a woman with management responsibilities, a loving family, and friendsâ€”with Adolf Hitler.Â I will give you a moment to marvel at Michelleâ€™s talent for hyperbole.
Then I will invite you to reflect.Â Think about employees experiencing conflict within organizations you are familiar with and how they tend to vilify each other.Â This demonizing arises naturally from the fact that people in conflict seldom treat each other well.Â The typical pattern of action and reaction often leads to a belief that each side is intending to harm the other.Â It is not much of a leap to believe that the â€śharmerâ€ť is a thoroughly malicious human being.
An In-Accord resolution case adds some dimension to these tendencies.Â Following a costly and ultimately failed organizational merger, Dan, the CEO, and a senior manager named Kevin, were left with deep rifts in their working relationship.Â Kevin was also married to an employee in a different department which compounded the negative dynamics because they inevitably riled each other up during off hour conversations.Â By the time they entered the resolution effort with me, they had convinced themselves that the CEO was a â€śpassive-aggressive, self-absorbed manipulatorâ€ť who set out to intentionally humiliate Kevin.Â For his part, Dan believed that Kevin was actively sabotaging both his leadership and even the entire organization.Â As in many similar cases, both sides perceived the other not as they were, but though filtered images they had created of each other.
As illustrated above, this narrow view of the other side is exacerbated by the way feuding employees seek affirmation for their opinions.Â Rather than talking to people who might disabuse them of their negative impressions (e.g., Kaylieâ€™s close associates and friends or someone other than Kevinâ€™s spouse), they grumble to people most likely to agree with them.Â As a result, their complaints become amplified in an echo chamber of sympathy and agreement.Â The echo they hear most is, â€śWow, she must really be awful to treat you that way.â€ť Â The complainerâ€™s blamelessness ascends while the image of the adversary devolves further in to someone unsavoryâ€¦perhaps even a little Joseph Stalin.Â As an organizational leader, here is where you come in.
Letâ€™s assume these employee conflicts are like 95% of the ones people in organizational life experience.Â There are different perspectives held by basically good, sensible people (no Pol Pots here).Â In cases like this your responsibility is to interrupt the negative echoes.Â Here are five measures you can use to restore perspective.
Understand vilification: A key reason people demonize the other side is to justify their own attitudes and actions.Â It is permissible to be nasty if we believe our opponent is Benito Mussolini.
Do not amplify the echo: Consciously stay above the fray by listening in an empathetic, but neutral, manner.Â Refuse to add your voice to the negative critique of the other side.
Defang it by normalizing it: Highlight the truth that people treat each other poorly when they are in fierce conflict.Â It is more a statement about the nature of conflict than an indictment of the character of the other person.
Highlight the personal cost: Help each side see the corrosive effect of demonizing the other person.Â As a client recently shared with me, â€śOver the course of this fight I have become a person I never intended to be.â€ť Â It has been said that anger does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than the object on which it is poured.
Advocate direct dialogue: Encourage discussion and negotiation between the opponents.Â There is no better way to change the script from â€śhe is evilâ€ť to â€śhe has a legitimate point of viewâ€ť than through skillfully facilitated, face-to-face conversation.Â It was through a constructive dialogue and negotiation process like this that Dan and Kevin reconsidered their skewed perceptions of each other.Â Among their 12-point final agreement were commitments such as:
- To discuss controversial topics (e.g., personnel issues, fundamental organizational changes) face-to-face.
- To engage in conversation about controversial issuesâ€¦until both are confident we understand the otherâ€™s perspective.
- To debrief any negative exchanges within 24 hours.
Leaders like you cannot add your weight to either side of a workplace conflict and expect your partisanship to foster resolution.Â It is healthier and more productive to help people see each other, as well as their own role, more objectively.
So, the next time an employee compares a coworker to a despotic megalomaniac, you will know it is time to encourage some perspective.
Chris Sheesley, MA, puts derailed workplace relationships back on track. Senior leaders and HR professionals rely on his many years of full time experience to transform seemingly impossible internal disputes into cooperation and productivity. His track record of over 1,750 cases, places him among the most seasoned conflict management professionals on the West Coast.
For more information, be sure to check out Mr. Sheesleyâ€™s speech entitled, “Fixing Workplace Conflict”. NACVA members grapple with damaging personal conflicts throughout their organizations. To help, this keynote presentation will assist you in navigating through costly and seemingly impossible conflicts. Mr. Sheesley is a Northwest conflict resolution consultant with 26 years of expertise. His specialty is solving high-stakes or high-risk workplace conflict. This well-tuned and highly tested presentation will show your how to identify and overcome the four barriers to resolution.
Sample video: http://inaccordnw.com/keynote-speaking/
While Mr. Sheesley is based in Portland, Oregon, he has traveled far and wide to deliver his speech and to facilitate trainings. Please let us know if you would like to schedule him for an upcoming event or if you have any questions.
Mr. Sheesley can be contacted at (503) 723-9982 or by e-mail to CSheesley@inaccordnw.com.