Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Some Lessons Learned About Conflict Management

Many years ago, I attended a course about assertiveness. 
The course was part of a development program which my company adhered to, and, as a consequence, myself and a colleague of mine were subscribed to the initiative.

Wikipedia defines assertiveness as The quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, it is a learnable skill and mode of communication.

Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as a Form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person's rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one's rights.

In other words, assertiveness is the art of defending and sustaining our idea, respecting other people and their point of view. 

I remember that, at the time, I was rather skeptical about the subject; I simply categorized all the soft-skills as a “matter of good will and common sense”. Still I took the course, trying to keep an open mind. 

Today, looking back at that opportunity, I feel like that it had been a real changing point in my career; It had been the moment on which I began to be attracted to project management and the study of human relationships.
From those days, I kept on trying to improve myself on the communication side, paying attention and always taking good care of every interaction I have with other people.

Obviously, this do require a certain dose of “good will and common sense”, but it also requires constant efforts to empathize with other human beings, and to contain our impulsive reactions. 

Assertiveness is different from flattering
Pay attention. Assertiveness is different from flattering. You have to be assertive not because you just need something from someone else; you have to be assertive because every human being deserves attention, credit, empathy and explanations. Assertiveness works if and only if you are sincere in your intents and your actions.

In the following, I will just present some lessons learned that I collected in all these years of “interactions”.

Better safe than sorry
One of the most sensitive matter with people is to give constructive criticisms.
Criticism requires a great deal of empathy, sensibility, and intelligence, from all the parts involved; it pushes anyone out from him/her comfort zone and, if properly applied and acknowledged, adds real value to one’s professional development. 

On the contrary, if the message is not well crafted, delivered and understood, criticism can create enormous damages. The workplace would rapidly fill with anger and resentment, impeding smooth executions of project’s activities and hindering the professional growth of the people involved.

In my humble opinion, bad criticism can significantly rise HR risks in a project and can lead teams on the verge of dysfunctionality. 

My advice is to reduce the need for criticism, by giving appreciation for good pieces of work. Make clear to everyone what is expected of them, praise good work, to give a concrete indication of the level of performance needed. Empower people through good examples. The bottom line is: if someone tells you he is hungry, do not take him a sandwich, just show him the way to the company canteen.

Obviously, this won’t completely eradicate the need for criticism, but, in the long run, I have found that is a kind of behavior that pays off.

Positive rephrasing
There are few concepts, explained with a negative form sentence, that could not be as equally well described using a positive form sentence. Let’s provide an example. Try to imagine the impact of the next sentence on a listener

The deliverables of work packages 23 that your team shipped yesterday, don’t respect the quality standard set for the project. Rework will be required. 

Quite hard, isn’t it? My instinctive reaction would be to select immediately and adopt a defensive strategy. The same concept could be passed saying something more positive, as

The deliverables of work packages 23, that your team shipped yesterday, have been built around a quality standard inferior to the one set for the project. Rework will be required. 

Even better would be

The deliverables of work packages 23, that your team shipped yesterday, have been built around a quality standard inferior to the one set for the project. Rework could not be avoided. 

Use a positive form in giving criticism and a negative, more empathic form, in announcing the need for an action. It could be discouraging for people seeing their work refused. You have to be direct and firm, sure, but there is no need to be brutal as well. People deserve truth and empathy.

Also do not forget always to explain why a piece of work does not reach adequate quality standards. Remember the first point, better safe than sorry. Errors tend to be less frequent if analyzed and explained.

Empathize with your interlocutor
Nobody, except a few exceptions, deliberately underperforms. Most of the people wants to be considered valuable and praised for their work. As a consequence, rarely people intentionally deliver poor pieces of work.

Having this in mind, try to understand what could be your interlocutor reasons for his/her behavior; try yourself to stand in his/her shoes.

Doing this, you will be forced to question your reasons and positions too. It could be an amazing experience. You never know what you can learn about yourself if you look at your reality with a new set of eyes.

Focus on similarities, not differences
Start evidencing what you and your interlocutor agree on; this will place the entire discussion on a positive scenario. If you both climb the mountain of positivity, you would see a broader horizon and maybe, mountains which seemed grueling, will look no more than small hills.

A positive framework helps engagement, collaboration, and the identification of new solutions.

If you are wrong, admit it quickly
Do not be afraid to show that you acknowledge your own errors. It is a way to show your self-confidence, not a symptom of weakness.

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest' opera รจ distribuita con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Unported.

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