managing interpersonal conflict

What If You Lose Your Cool at Work? Managing Interpersonal Conflict

Raise Your Standards

What do you do when your workplace culture is very friendly, and harmonious, but standards of performance are lax? No one confronts each other about low performance and it is starting to impact the business. Should you crack the whip? Convince the president that you need to change the culture? Try to raise standards in your team? We’ll explore 3 options for how to raise your standards, examining pros and cons of each. Should you find yourself in a highly fun but low performance culture, you’ll know the best change management approach.

The Situation

You have a senior position at a graphics company. You head up the team responsible for web designs.

Your company was founded by Stephen ten years ago. Stephen was a graphics designer who at one time had a tyrant for a boss. He vowed when he started his company that employees would never be treated the way he had been.

“It’s simple,” he said in interviews. “This is going to be a nice place to work. No more toxic bosses. We are going to make this an enjoyable work environment.”

Stephen has been highly successful in creating a very friendly atmosphere. The 50 employees really like working here. However, you have come to realize that the overly sociable Q3 environment has created some productivity issues.

When You Have No Standards

You feel that your team sometimes accepts mediocrity from colleagues because no one wants to confront others about substandard performance. You have seen some clients take their projects elsewhere because your company’s deliverables were not up to par.

The organization lacks high performance standards. In fact, it doesn’t really have clear standards at all.

Lack of Accountability

People do not hold each other accountable. Few goals are put in writing, and when they are, they are vague and without measurability or a date due.

Lack of Follow Through

Meetings are very pleasant. People have a good time. Yet there is a lack of follow through. Lots of things are discussed but few are executed.

Failure to Set Expectations Will Not Produce Results

Overall, this fun environment is not a recipe for high quality and customer satisfaction. It seems more like a prelude to eventual bankruptcy if this Q3 culture doesn’t develop more of a focus on productivity enhancement and follow through.

Standards for Success

As one of the founding employees of the organization, you feel a certain pride and responsibility for the company delivering a superior product. But what can you do to change the culture, at least with regard to your team? How do you implement standards for success—performance standards—to improve product quality? You contemplate 3 possibilities:

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. Apologize and smooth over your disagreement. If you can re-establish an agreeable atmosphere before re-opening the topic, you are both apt to refrain from losing your tempers.

 No, please try again.

B. Since Don plans to dig in his heels defending himself, you must get a neutral third party to settle this disagreement. Ask your boss to sit in on your attempt to resolve it.

 No, please try again.

C. Acknowledge to Don that things got out of hand emotionally. Then, ask for Don’s help to discuss and resolve this issue, listing benefits to Don for giving it another try.

Managing Interpersonal Conflict

Dimensional Model of Behavior

Apologize and Smooth Things Over?

If this were a heated argument with a neighbor or a relative, rather than a colleague, choice A might be good advice. In that situation, you could walk away without reaching an agreement. However, being on this committee together, you do have to seek a resolution with your colleague.

Going Q3 (overly friendly and compliant) will make it difficult for you to be honest about your concerns. Maybe you lost your cool, but you did have a point. Besides, you may come off as insincere if you try to smooth it over, leaving Don as adamant as ever. A better way of managing interpersonal conflict is answer C. 

Bring in The Boss

You may have to get your boss involved at some point, but try to avoid that as much as possible. Part of being a Q4 leader is using your collaborative skills to work out differences. Choice B, going to your boss because you and Don had a heated exchange, doesn’t make either of you look like capable professionals. You were picked to be on this team to come up with answers, not create new problems. Answer C is stronger. 

Conflict Management Skill

The best response is C: Approach Don with the idea of acknowledging that your previous encounter got out of hand, and ask for his help to resolve the issue.

It shows your goal is Q4 — you want to work together to achieve a goal, not beat down an opponent’s view. This way, you aren’t hiding your concerns, but you are trying to be more productive. List benefits to Don for working out the issue.

Keep your emotions in check this time, and try to be open and objective. Plan out the meeting in advance to help keep your emotions on an even keel. Be prepared that Don may still be angry, and if he is, let him vent. Once the air has cleared, the two of you should be able to have a productive discussion.

What’s Next

With your newfound expertise in managing interpersonal conflict, head over to our other leadership tips for more learning.

Do you work with a difficult person? Our behavioral questionnaire will provide actionable suggestions on dealing with them effectively.

Learning leadership skills is the first step. The next step is to try out your new skills in a safe environment, get feedback on how you come across, and get coached to improve your leadership effectiveness. Our leadership development resources offer a variety of tools to support you in your journey.

Lastly, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. That pearl of leadership wisdom that you’ve been seeking could be in the next issue!