Everyone is aware of friction when it exists in the office. Whether it’s an undercurrent you feel or scuttlebutt around the water cooler, you want to shout out why can’t we all just get along? Consider that your leadership may be the reason people aren’t getting along.
Most managers and leaders at all levels don’t give clear direction. As they balance between providing strategic vision without micro-managing, they often leave people floundering without a clear definition of the desired outcome. As confusion sets in, the conflicts begin. Who knows what the leader wants best? Is it the long-term associate? The person with the closest relationship? The person who was right last time? And no one wants to ask because the likely reaction, though not in words, is “Why are you asking? I gave you direction.”
Effective leaders should give direction concurrent with open discussion, as well as welcoming clarification. The team, both leaders and members, should discuss what success looks like, challenges they anticipate and how to remove them in advance, how they can support each other and get support from other parts of the organization, and set an expected timeline. They should also agree on when to regroup, when to escalate if issues arise and if they need additional support. Sounds easy, but asking for clarification almost never happens in the frenzy of getting work completed.
HR has the responsibility to ensure managers recognize clear direction and understand that open communication is the norm for the organization. HR executives need to work this way, and communicate with others about what the group and company gained and can gain by doing so.
Lack of upward feedback
Can I give you some feedback? Most people don’t ask – if it’s good feedback they just let you know. However, workers who are frustrated and have suggestions for how their managers – or senior leadership – could improve the process often hold their tongues. Senior people who really want to develop themselves need to ensure that they get feedback, and you can only do that by creating a culture of trust. Even asking for feedback won’t work; responding may be a career limiting move.
HR leadership must encourage everyone from supervisors to executives to welcome and listen to feedback. People are not always skilled in delivery of feedback so it’s important to encourage recipients to seek out the nugget of value in the message. Demonstrating appreciation of someone’s efforts to support your growth encourages further dialogue and opportunities for strengthening leadership skills.
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Offering one-on-one feedback on a regular basis can create trust. Millennials, especially, don’t want to wait to hear about their progress and your thoughts on their development until the end of the year, or as part of a “great job team” speech. Most employees are eager to hear positive feedback about their contributions, and happier to hear actionable feedback regarding how they can make improvements on a regular basis as opposed to be being blindsided by negative comments saved up over 12 months. Managers often wait to have these conversations to avoid conflict, but delays allow conflict to grow, hard feelings to fester, and create missed opportunities to correct expected results, or bad behavior.
Conflict is an opportunity to create understanding. Small conflicts happen routinely and are often overlooked. Large conflicts happen and people look for a way to deal with them through indirect methods. Neither approach is effective. Only through communication — based on that culture of trust — can you move through these issues. Human resources leaders and programs need to be dedicated to helping people develop skills to deal with conflict. Most people avoid conflict, some people cause conflict, and just a few others deal with conflict effectively. Anger will not help. Clarify the situation, your expectations, ask questions, gain mutual agreement on a new standard, and remain on the same team with the same goals. Be hard on the problem, not on the people.
Managing people can lead to success or failure for an organization. Learning to be better at it everyday will retain the talent that will contribute to organizational success in the long run.