Victimology 101: Helping the Victim in Conflict Resolution

Distinguishing Between Sympathy and Empathy

“The mill cannot grind with the water that’s past”. (George Herbert, d. 1633)

It is a fact that in many conflict resolution settings, such as mediations or settlement conferences, you will experience someone cloaked in the mantle of what I refer to as “victimology“. Regardless of the nature of his experience, i.e., from the most horrific to the merely inconvenient, he is lost in the victim paradigm. This means he either cannot — or will not — advance from that position. Or, if he’s not lost, per se, he’s using his victim hood, consciously or unconsciously, as a negotiation tactic. In my experience, this can present a difficult and unwieldy situation for all involved.

On the one hand, you don’t want to appear unsympathetic and cold-hearted. On the other, it’s important that you be able to navigate your path somehow through the conflict to ultimate resolution. What lies in between?

First, note the difference between the notions of sympathy and empathy. Sympathy occurs when one shows sadness or regret, commiseration, for another’s position or experience. Empathy, however, activates through your intellectual identification of another’s experiences without commiseration. The key to interacting with someone who is in victim mode is to first, take an empathetic stand with him. He must know that you truly understand and are concerned about his experiences.

Ways of Showing Empathy

The idea is to listen very carefully to what the person is saying and then acknowledge his experience, his position, his pain, if appropriate. One of the ways in which this can be done to to paraphrase, in your own words, what he’s told you and then repeat them back to him. Not parrot-like, but in a sincere, meaningful way. Another empathic strategy is to ask him appropriate questions about his experience. What was it like? How did he deal with it? How is he coping now?

It is critical to carve out sufficient time for this empathic dialogue. The length of time needed, of course, will depend upon the nature of the person and his circumstances. So, allow sufficient time to establish empathy…. make sure that he has experienced your empathy — and then move on.

Moving On: Focus on the Present

People who are suffering from “victim hood” are stuck in the past. Generally speaking, they are not fully present. I realize this might sound cold, but from the standpoint of conflict resolution and negotiations, you simply cannot reach resolution in the present moment if one of the parties is stuck in the past. Regardless of whether the “victim” lost a leg, sustained a head injury, or lost a loved one, the fact is that the past cannot be changed. You can only resolve a dispute in the now, the present.

I have found that most people who are “real” victims (for lack of better terminology) do want their losses to be acknowledged and they do want your empathy. And, in very real ways, they really do want to move on, inasmuch as such a thing is possible. In contrast, those who are consciously or unconsciously using their “victim hood” for purposes of negotiation, want to stay in the past as much as possible. They want to keep the focus on themselves and their misfortune(s). This is not conducive to emphasizing what needs to be done now to reach resolution.

There’s no Magic Wand

Sometimes the best approach with these people, after the appropriate empathic strategies have been utilized, is to re-focus them in the present. In some mediations I have said that if I had a magic wand I would have used it so that none of the events that transpired had ever occurred. But I don’t have such a wand — and neither do they. We cannot change what took place in the past. We can only face it now and deal with it — or not.

Put another way: the point of power is in the present moment. We cannot change what transpired. We cannot obviate the events that occurred. We cannot undo the damage that has been sustained. But we can use dialogue to explore some appropriate remedies that may, in some ways, compensate the person thus aggrieved.

And we can only engage in such exploration in the present moment. The present transcends the past as it relates to reaching an accord.

Clear Communication: Avoiding a Serbian Bog in Negotiation

William Shakespeare Had the Right of It

“…And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. [Macbeth V,v,17].

Be honest: does this or does this not describe an experience you’ve had with someone with whom you were trying to communicate? Perhaps it was a negotiation of some sort, or you were trying to engage in some clear communication with another. (And if there was significant emotion involved, add an entire other layer). At the end of the exchange, assuming you wanted to understand what was being said, you scratch your head, pause, and ask yourself, “What the heck did he just say?” And if you or any other participant does not try to clarify what was said and/or meant, well, then, you have just taken the first step into what I refer to as the Serbian Bog of communication. Just remember: it’s easy to get in and very difficult to get out.

Serbian Bog?

This is a descriptive term for communication — actually conversation, now — that occurs when one or more persons does not understand what another has said, but continues with the conversation as if she did. The other side is is usually talking rapidly without pause. The other person may rightfully assume that he has been heard and understood, and will likely rely on that assumption. Meanwhile, she will proceed to nod her head, or show with her body language that she is on track with what he’s saying. They might continue in this vein for awhile until someone says something that jolts the other into the recognition that there’s been a fundamental misunderstanding somewhere. Now, if they care to clarify, they have to return to the beginning of the dialogue to discover where they went wrong. Sometimes when this occurs, one of the participants even accuses the other of being dishonest, as in, “You deliberately tried to mislead me”. Good will evaporates, mutual distrust arrives, and emotions may get out of hand. All of this, of course, could have been avoided if one of them had said something like, “I don’t understand what you just said. Try it again, I need to comprehend”. Or words to that effect….

Serbian Bogs are ubiquitous: board meetings, negotiations, classrooms, and in every environment where one or more persons is hesitant or afraid to ask questions. Why? Not always, but usually, because she or he does not want to appear “less than” the others. Or stupid.

Crawling Out….

I have observed many, many Serbian Bog occurrences in my career. The best approach, obviously, is to prevent them from happening in the first place, although depending upon the participants’ personalities and emotions, it’s not always possible. Here are some practical strategies for both avoiding the Serbian Bog, or once there, crawling out of it as quickly as possible:

1) Start at the beginning. Make sure the premise(s) that everyone is operating from are correct. State them clearly. Ask for assent and clarification from everyone. Obtain their agreement on the premise(s) before you proceed any further with the negotiation.

2) Ask plenty of questions during the negotiation. As in, “Did I understand you correctly that you will ….”, or, “Explain that to me again. I want to make sure I can commit to it”. Anecdotally, I have never met anyone who was offended by being questioned by someone else. (Police investigations and cross-examination excluded). Instead, I have found that most people are flattered that you care enough to understand what they say.

3) As you proceed, continue to obtain “buy in” from all of the participants to the negotiation. If there’s a snag or stall in the negotiations, try to tackle it as it occurs. If that’s not possible, agree that you will address it later in the communication and get their assent.

4) Acknowledge the fact that everyone is doing a good job of staying on track and discussing the difficult issues. Everyone likes acknowledgment.

5) Postpone the negotiation if necessary. If more research, facts, experts or any other objective criteria is pertinent, agree to continue the session to another day and time. Give each other the requisite time within which to gather appropriate facts and figures.

Know that your desire for clear, competent communication will really assist you in avoiding communication’s Serbian Bog.

Who Are You, Anyway? – Disingenuous People in Negotiations

All is Not as it May Seem

This posting is about the false fronts, hidden agendas and/or secret motivations that others may possess and try to use — to your detriment — in negotiations or conflict settings. Contrary to what our parents told us about being honest, upfront and truthful, many persons’ parents skipped that lesson with their kids… apparently. I think that one of the most difficult, yet important aspects of negotiations is to learn to detect, (sometimes it’s “just” your gut instinct), the inconsistency or falseness in the other person. It’s difficult, I sincerely hope, because most of us come from a place of relative good will toward others, even in a competitive negotiation session. But not all of us. In fact, some people are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing, as the saying goes. And they know it. And they don’t care to change: they will defend their judgment and position mightily once you call their bluff. And these people maintain their dysfunctional persona even in what we might call “normal” day-to-day interactions. These people must “win” at all costs, even in unimportant exchanges, so that they can feel better than you … or me.

Who You are Speaks so Loudly I Cannot Hear what You’re Saying

Have you ever heard that expression? I confess it had little meaning for me until I began to observe, in earnest, others’ behaviors and words, while comparing such to their actions or their history. There are people walking around who will espouse one thing with a perfectly honest face, while their body language, energy or actions belie and counter what they’ve said. You’ve met some, I’m sure. They’re the ones that you encounter and try to believe or understand, but something inside of you is screaming that you’re a fool if you buy into their story. Sometimes your insides are telling you just to get away — as fast as possible.

In my mediation practice, and to a lesser extent in my law practice, I have met and have had to experience these people. As I write this, I remember some of their faces that pass through my mind’s eye. I invariably felt the same reactions to each of them, regardless of gender, age or situational environment: first, I took a long, hot shower (as soon as possible) to clear my energy, and second, I spent some time ruminating about how they could wander/stumble through life like that.

The point of this is not to judge others, necessarily, but to show that sometimes, all is not what it seems. If you encounter such a situation, especially in conflict resolution or negotiation settings, please don’t tell yourself that you’re imagining this dynamic. Be aware that not everyone you will encounter cares about principled negotiations or even honesty. And not everyone has good will toward others. John Adams said that “All governments depend upon the good will of the people”. But not all people have good will. Perhaps that’s why government is flawed.

The Moral of This Posting is….

Focus on your purpose and your goals in negotiations and conflict settings. Have all of your factual research at your fingertips. As often as possible, be of good will. Be generous with what you have (and can) share. Ask lots of questions and endeavor to build solid rapport with the other. Have faith in positive outcomes, but do not be naive. Listen to your instincts. When in doubt, always follow your instincts. The unfortunate fact is that some people are simply not what they seem.

That’s a Fact, Jack: Emphasizing Facts in Conflict Resolution

I love facts. As a lawyer, mediator and an arbitrator, I so very much love facts! I love and respect facts because they’re elements of the whole cloth of truth. For example, the temperature gauge outside my window reads 76 degrees. If I read the thermometer correctly, that’s a fact. See the difference between that and, “I feel as though it’s 76 degrees outside”. That is not a fact — that’s a feeling. Where I am going with this is that one needs to be able to identify and rely on relevant facts when resolving conflict. Feelings change — facts don’t.

Fact Finding – Secrets of Resolving Conflict

Yes, yes, I know that feelings are important, too. But not in this particular post. Here, I’m advancing the beauty and wisdom of facts. It’s important because: 1) many people cannot distinguish the difference intellectually; 2) just like assumptions which lead to false premises, ignoring or misconstruing the facts in a situation can quash any resolution; 3) the facts are signposts of the truth and can make or break a person’s credibility, a lawsuit, or the resolution of a conflict.

The Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts….

Let’s start with the first. In order to prove the viability of my supposition that many people cannot separate facts from feelings, try engaging in a political discussion with someone on any subject relating to politics. Make sure that you are prepared by having some salient facts at your disposal. Watch how quickly the dialogue disintegrates into a discussion of feelings. “It’s not fair that…” or “How can people live like that?” … or “The big oil companies want us to suffer”. If you interjected some facts into the discussion at various intervals, you might either be perceived as a savior or an interloper. Many people don’t like facts that run contrary to their feelings. By the way, the discussion doesn’t have to be political. Virtually any subject where facts are involved will do.

Facts Are Forever

As to the second, when you ignore the facts or relegate them to less importance than feelings, you are pulling the rug out from underneath yourself, to coin a phrase. In a conflict setting, clear, competent dialogue is all-important. [No, Dear, not at 2 AM when you’re out alone and are being followed — run!] If you’re focusing on feelings rather than the facts your chances of a resolution that will stand the test of time are greatly diminished. In part this is because feelings are transitory — they change — while facts do not. If the fact is that I was born on April 1, that will always be a fact. Fifty years from now it will still be a fact. Nothing will change it. Even if I lie about it, it will not change the fact itself. Facts are immutable. That’s the beauty of them!

People of the Lie

In my career, I have the opportunity to listen to hundreds of people from all socio-economic, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender categories tell me their “truth”. They either were giving sworn testimony (under penalty of perjury) in a trial, arbitration or deposition, or they were telling their story in a mediation. In all cases I have listened very carefully to what they have said. In many of the instances, the underlying facts of the situation did not support their testimony. What I mean is that the facts were contrary to what they had said. In some cases, the facts had been changed or altered to “support” their version of the events. And in some cases, the facts lined up perfectly in connection with their position or directly supported their testimony. Once again, a clear grasp of the relevant facts is undeniably helpful in making evaluations or assessments of credibility, circumstantial evidence, or even interpretation of direct evidence. It is critical in engaging in the dialogue that is necessary to resolving conflict.

There’s an old saying in the law biz: If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you don’t have the facts, baffle ’em with bull____. While I won’t comment on the ethics of this adage here, I will say this: whoever invented it knew the importance of facts.

Don’t Make Assumptions When Resolving Conflicts

There is an old adage that some of us have probably run across. It is, “Don’t assume. When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” (For the uninitiated, look at the word “assume” and make the appropriate connections). But I think the real and more important reasons not to make assumptions — about anything — is because you’ll probably never know the truth if you assume, and that leads to false premises. And false premises are akin to building a house on a pile of sand. Because the foundation is transitory, so is the house.

He’s Just Not That Into You – Not!

Now I’m not talking about making the assumption that it’s not logical or safe to swim in the ocean if you don’t already know how to swim. That’s a sure bet. I’m referring to making assumptions about other people, their agendas, their interests, their personalities without objective, concrete evidence. For example, you arrive at your friend’s barbeque and find yourself sitting next to a very attractive, nicely dressed man. Although you take steps to initiate conversation, he responds very little and you assume that he doesn’t find you attractive. So you excuse yourself and wander off to greener pastures. Later you discover (from your friend) that his father died a month ago, and the only reason he came to the barbeque was because of her friendly persuasion that he get out and socialize. His non-responsiveness, then, had nothing to do with you and was related to something completely different.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

The most damaging assumptions are often made in negotiations and in those situations where clarity of communication is all-important. One (or more) mistaken assumption(s) can sound the death knell for the dialogue without any of the parties necessarily knowing or understanding why. (That is, of course, unless they really take the time to unwind the morass of the dialogue’s tentacles to determine where they veered off course).

It is always better to ask questions in order to obtain the answer than to make an assumption and be wrong. People will be flattered by your questions — they will take it as a sign of your interest and concern for them. Ask — don’t assume — and observe how your communication and negotiations improve.

Don’t Be Afraid of the "NO" when resolving conflicts

This posting is about one of the simplest, yet profound lessons I have learned in the art of negotiation and communication. People are not mind readers. Although you might assume they know what you want, trust me, they do not. This means that typically you cannot rely on someone’s prescience to provide you with what you want. You’ll have to be assertive and… dare I say it…. ask for what you want. Whether it’s a certain price on something, a particular delivery date, or a concession in a contract you’re negotiating — it doesn’t matter. Most of the time you must take the initiative and make a specific request. Yet a lot of people — perhaps most — don’t ask for what they want. If you ask them why not, they’ll respond that they’re too shy, or they don’t want the other person to think they’re greedy, or they would be embarrassed to ask. Once in awhile you’ll find that rare individual who will tell you this truth, i.e., “What if he says no? What do I do then?”

And here’s the gravamen of the lesson: don’t be afraid of someone’s “No”. If you let your fear or apprehension of being told “No” outweigh the importance of your agenda, you’ll miss all the good stuff that’s available to you if only you have the guts to ask. So for example, when I am in a particular situation where I want something(s) and I find myself hesitating to ask, I query myself: what’s the worst thing that can happen if I ask? That he’ll say “no”? So what? Then take it one step beyond that.

Ignore the No – Focus on the Positive

If you want something — say, a discount on a volume purchase — and you ask for it and the other person says, “No,” don’t leave it at that. Ask, “Why not? Why can’t I have a discount — after all, I’m buying three dozen of these widgets here, not three.” What you may discover is that the other person’s “No” was not cast in bronze. You might determine that there’s a completely unrelated rationale for his “No.” Why is that important? It’s important because now you have the option to commence a dialogue with the other person, and such might actually result in your getting what you wanted in the first place. A discount. But if it doesn’t, at least you tried to get it, you took the initiative and asked for it, and if it’s that important to you, you (hopefully) have the option of walking away from the deal. Don’t be afraid of the “No”. Focus on the positive aspect of the “No”. Ask questions until the “No” morphs into something else or you are satisfied that you approached the discussion from every angle. This is how you gain experience in communication and negotiation.

Speed Kills – Don’t Permit Time Pressure in Negotiations

One of the cardinal rules of negotiation is avoid “time pressure” at all costs. Put another way: try never to allow someone else (or yourself, for that matter) to pit you against the clock artifically for any aspect of the negotiation. The reason is that the psychological pressure invoked by an inappropriate time frame may cause you to make a bad decision, fail to uncover important facts or at least to forego a better, wiser decision, had you, well, had enough time. Of course, there are times in life when you must act expediently and without sufficient “time” within which to analyze a situation. But hopefully those occasions will be few and far between.

Take Your Time When You’re Spending Your Money

Here’s an example: I set out to remodel our master bathroom. Specifically, I wanted to pull out the original Roman tub and convert the space into a large, walk-in shower with frameless glass doors. And I also wanted new beveled mirrors and a few other things. Not a huge project per se, but if you have ever dealt with contractors for a project in your home, you know that every job is huge, regardless of what they say. [I know, I know…lawyers and contractors…]. So, I gave myself a time frame of six months within which to interview, investigate and hire a contractor for the job. As it turned out, I only needed 4 months, but I interviewed nine different companies before I selected the right one. Yes, price was an issue, but so was integrity, competent communication, reputation, and something real but not necessarily palpabe: I had to like him/her as a person. This is because that person would be in my house day after day for several weeks. I met with nine separate company representatives — some of them more than once. But because I was not under a time “limit” or emergency situation, I had the ability to take my time in making the right decision. My instincts proved correct. Had I been dealing with a bathroom emergency — water leaks, broken piping, etc. — it probably would have ended differently. But I had the luxury of time.

It’s About Time in Negotiations

During the course of a negotiation, experienced negotiators will often seek to put in place arbitrary time frames that suit them, of course, and not you. Comply with them at your own peril. Instead, ask why he needs a specific time frame or why there is such a cut-off date. Ask questions about the necessity for such a time limit. Negotiate for a better option for yourself. There is enough to be concerned about in any negotiation: worrying about the other person’s time frame should not be one of them.

Our mothers used to tell us, “Haste makes waste,” remember? There was a reason for that adage. When we hurry ourselves (or allow ourselves to be hurried) we are not spending the amount or quality of time we need in focusing upon all of the important elements of the negotiation. We are more focused on complying with the time limit.

Time to Negotiate Properly

What should you do when you enter into a negotiation with someone who indicates that her time is limited but if you both “hurry up” you might be able to conclude the negotiation? Tell her that you’re willing to re-schedule the meeting at a more appropriate time. Let her know that this negotiation is important enough to warrant that both sides have sufficient time to explore all of the issues and aspects of the negotiation. Don’t cheat yourself in negotiation: always make sure there’s enough time.

Using Body Language To Spot Liars in Mediations

How to read liars and learn the trick to telling a whopper – and getting away with it

By: Ben Paynter

You know your son better than anybody else does, but you can’t tell if he’s lying to you or if he’s just nervous talking about cigarettes. Or maybe you have an employee who seems to have an unusually high frequency of doctors’ appointments. If you were fluent in body language, you’d always know guile from gospel, says Marc Salem, a self-described mentalist who holds advanced degrees in psychology and cognitive science from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, respectively. For the past 30 years, he has made a career out of reading people. He has taught interrogation tactics to the FBI, the Secret Service, and the New York City Police Department. Salem has even beaten a polygraph, and now he shares the secrets of his craft in his book, The Six Keys to Unlock and Empower Your Mind, out this month. Here, the master interrogator explains how to read liars and reveals the trick to telling a whopper–and getting away with it.

Best Life: How can you discern genuine from dishonest body language?
Marc Salem: Think of a conversation as a package of related signals. What you’re looking for are breaks in a person’s normal pattern, abrupt gestures like hand clenching or head movements, or someone shifting his posture away from you. Imagine you’re watching the scene back as a video: You might think slowing down the frames will help you pick out inconsistencies, but with lying, it is just the opposite. In fast-forward, suddenly you see repeated movements that you didn’t realize were there before, because at normal speed, they are spaced farther apart. They’re sort of like guilty tics.

BL: Do all liars have tells?
MS: Yes. When you lie, you’re subconsciously trying to get out of your own insides, and so you overly externalize. A person who covers his mouth with his left hand while talking is usually lying. If someone looks up and to the right, he’s probably trying to invent an answer rather than tell the truth. People look to the left, either up or down, when recalling the truth. But the ultimate red flag is pupil dilation. Almost no one can escape that.

BL: Why do the pupils dilate?
MS: Pupil dilation is a direct biological response to an emotional reaction. It shows a high level of excitation. Anyone who is telling a lie, unless he’s pathological, will experience some sort of emotional discomfort, no matter how slight. That discomfort registers in this uncontrollable physical response. You can’t fake it, and it will give you away almost every time. The only way to tell a lie successfully is to use the tools of a method actor and become someone else. You have to believe what you’re saying.

Is Your Company Working At a Standstill? You Need Activities for …

Are you worried that the upcoming staff outing is going to be an all-out disaster? Maybe instead of horseshoes or badminton at your next picnic, you should think about activities for conflict resolution skills!

Conflict among staff and team members are typically symptomatic of misperceptions and disintegrated communication – in other words, your employees are probably acting a lot like this:

* Defensive or hypersensitive
* Fearful of reprisals and putdowns even if encouraged to speak
* Unwilling to see the “other side’s” point of view

Planning Activities for Conflict Resolution Skills…

If you’re planning a group meeting in the near future, this can be a good time to incorporate fun activities for conflict resolution skills. What should your planned goals be in planning activities for conflict resolution skills?

* Enabling everyone in your company to actually recognize and reframe their misperceptions – to understand how words were meant to be understood versus how they were interpreted.
* Giving your team a sense of “air time” through activities for conflict resolution skills so team members can identify their place in the group and the situation at hand.
* Give your staff a chance to see and experience another side to the great people they work with on a daily basis.
* Activities specifically designed for your staff and their unique challenges so that the lessons learned will be maintained long after the event is over and you receive a good return on your investment.

If conflicts run deep, it’s often advisable to bring in an objective professional to choreograph activities for conflict resolution. Your planned activities may stem from your best intentions, but if they are not designed and monitored carefully by a specialist, the process can blow up and potentially become worse than it was at the start.

Following is an example of of some fun and informative activities and programs we have had success with. This example will give you an idea of how to approach conflict resolution within your organization.

Participants are given an understanding of the experiential program and how it can benefit them as well as their team, department and /or organization. Additional topics focus on personal safety, importance of support, how to enter the learning zone, and other key points that invite participation.

Paired Shares:
In a structured one on one format participants meet and converse with many different colleagues. Each conversation and the subsequent progression (4-5 different topics) are specifically designed to get the group more connected and comfortable with each other and help anchor points made in the previous context phase.

Shape It Up:
While seated and blindfolded the team must discover the answer to an equation that involves colored plastic shapes. This event requires clear and descriptive communication, open and non-biased listening, and consensus.

Diminishing Resources:
As work projects and demands continue to rise to a shrinking time line and budget, moods and effectiveness may deteriorate. This simulation catches the team assuming too much and supporting too little until one brave member begins to share his/her knowledge (thus reducing stress and effort) with the team.

At the conclusion of each simulation, the team is given an opportunity to assess their performance. Discussions involve the poignant insights they have gained or been introduced to and how these relate to their developmental leadership stage, career and/or office environment etc.

Small group discussions regarding stages of leadership development and where they perceive themselves to be (i.e., novice, moderately competent, proficient). Or they can discuss one area in their realm where they’ve had a great breakthrough and one area that needs attention/support etc.

The groups will be brought together for the last time of the day/evening. This is a final opportunity for the entire group to share, cross learn and connect about key insights and critical points (i.e., leadership, communication, teaming, and shared successes) that were experienced during the program. Variation for constricted time lines: A representative from each team shares a highlight and insight about the teams experiences with the other groups.

This outline is an approximation only. The value of these activities comes not from the events so much as from the insight and dialogue the events inspire. Therefore, if learning from a particular event and subsequent debrief is going exceptionally well, we suggest you deviate from the aforementioned outline in order to solidify and deepen the learning potential. This will tend to promote further dialogue related to this subject at a further time.

Kelly Graves is the founder and CEO of Internal Solutions Consulting. ISC specializes in organizational conflict resolution. With over 85 years of combined experience in organizational conflict resolution, Internal Solutions is able the quickly address conflicts within an organization to facilitate a more successful, productive and profitable communication environment. For more information about Internal Solutions Consulting please visit

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Recommend Workplace Conflict Resolution: What’s Creating Workplace …

A radio interviewer recently asked me if I thought there was more conflict in the workplace today than in the past. After thinking about it, I replied, “Yes, I think there is more conflict today.”

Here Are 3 Main Reasons Why There Is More Conflict In The Workplace Today Than In The Past:

1. Today’s workplace is much more egalitarian. We have flatter chains of command, dotted line relationships, and primarily knowledge workers who are capable of making decisions themselves and have the freedom to move on to another job if they don’t like the way they are being treated.

In prior years, the workplace consisted of a clear authoritarian structure and chain of command. Workers obeyed orders, kept their gripes and personal issues to themselves, and did their work. If they failed to perform effectively, they were immediately fired and replaced.

2. Today, people of all ages from all over the world have come to work together. They have different values, goals, behavioral expectations and prior experiences. Yet they are expected to work together without really understanding why all the misunderstandings between them occur.

3. Women are now in the workplace in equal numbers to their male counterparts. Generally speaking, women are much less accustomed to following a chain of command than men. Most men grow up participating in organized sports where they are taught how to obey. Although some women are now active in sports, many more grow up playing creative games that didn’t have any particular organization or chain of command. In games like house, girls take turns in varying roles.

Although we’ve come a long way towards understanding each other and working harmoniously together in the workplace, there are still behavioral differences in teasing, flirting, confronting, aggression and simple communication styles.

Solutions To Conflicts In The Workplace

Clearly, these workplace issues are here to stay. How can we handle them? How can we change certain elements? Here are some of my ideas:

Dealing with Different People in the Workplace

Your organization is going to continue to have people of all genders, ages, cultures, styles and expectations working together. You need to provide them with:

• A common culture with clearly defined behavioral expectations. This includes policy, procedures, statements of corporate values and culture – and the follow through to hold people accountable.

• Diversity training that teaches how to manage different people as well as how to get them to cooperate at meetings and other group forums. Your organization needs to delve into training. Trainers need to understand cognitive and communication styles, values around politeness and dealing with superiors, as well as issues of pride, humility, conformity and all the other differences that cause conflicts in the workplace.

• Acceptance and recognition of the differences, so your organization doesn’t try to have a “one size fits all” method of managing.

• More attempts to help each other clear up disagreements and misunderstandings – rather than passing judgment and deciding who is right and who is wrong.

Management Style and Hours Worked

When management creates a clear set of guidelines as to work expectations and measures success rather than time spent, it will be easier for people to know what to do because the parameters are clear. Here’s what your organization can do to avoid conflicts in the workplace related to management styles:

• Publish policy, procedures, values, expectations, and guidelines. Since there no longer is a supervisor with a whip looking over each worker’s shoulder, it is these documents that guide your employees’ behaviors.

• Managers need to learn how to correctly manage different individuals to enable each person to be successful. Some people need more instruction and others need to be left alone to create. Some are more trustworthy than others and can be relied upon to know their own limits and decision-making authority. Others need to be managed more tightly.

• The quality and the quantity of the work should be rewarded, not time. Managers need to stop the subtle and not-so-subtle remarks about not seeing a worker on a Saturday or early in the morning.

• Employees need to have flexible time whenever possible. Some jobs require attendance at set hours. Most do not. People with young children at home might want to go home for a few hours in the late afternoon and return either to work, or to their home computer after their children have been put to bed.

• Recognize that less is often more. If people get to relax, have a family life, recreation, and pleasure, they are almost always more productive and creative during their working time.

Although conflict is here to stay, it certainly can be mitigated by taking the needs and differences of people seriously and by teaching them about each other and how to work together. Stop being afraid and start being kind.

With 30+ years experience in specializing in people and processes in the workplace, Organizational Development and Human Resource Consultant, ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D can teach your management team how to manage your organization effectively and efficiently. For more free tips that will help your organization increase its productivity by cutting the number of conflicts in the workplace in half go to:

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