Every person can improve their ability to deal with interpersonal conflict in the workplace. There is an endless source of how exactly to make that happen but when it comes down to it, most conflict is a communication issue. The framework describe below is based on my experience within the outdoor education field, where conflict and challenge is part of the everyday experience. The goal of the framework is to establish a structure to allow hard conversations to be had. This method has proven itself useful in defusing stress associated with conflict and integrating it into more traditional workplaces is a personal career goal of mine. The information provide is meant to be read and reflected on. If your using this material in a group setting there is an exercise provided at the bottom to help illustrate the structure of process.
Feedback is a gift. Give it with positive intention and good will or stay quite.
If a specific event evokes the need to provide feedback do your best to engage in that conversation as soon after the event as you are comfortable with. It is advisable to give it a night to gather and write your thoughts. Bringing up issues form the past is generally not effect, unless it is tied to a recent action.
Show Cause and Effect Relationships
Don’t just point your finger. Take the time to explain how specific actions are effecting you. No one can claim that your emotional reactions are right or wrong besides yourself. Which of the two statements below would you better react to.
“When you make critical statements about my work in front of the group it makes me feel like I’m not a valued member of the team”
“Your wrong in making those negative statements about my work in front of the group.”
If you place yourself at the center of the statement people are less likely to feel persecuted and will be more likely to react to your feedback.
Owned by the Sender
You have to believe in what you are sharing. This means your can bring up the issue in a conversation with that person. It’s harder but it ensures that you feel strongly about the process and want something to change.
Negativity is less likely to make changes that growth oriented statements. Remember that you should only share the information you have if you believe that it is something that person receiving the information will benefit from. You don’t give a gift to someone you don’t care about.
Nothing in your statements should belittle the individual receiving the feedback. Often this can be accomplish by carefully selecting you words and phrase. You can tell someone that have something to improve on without making then feel like they have done something poorly.
If possible, place yourself as part of the solution. Making statements about “what could I do to help you with this” show that you care for the betterment of the individual. That said, be honest with what you can actually give. It’s better to maintain they trust then over commit.
Honesty is essential. All this goes out the window if the reality of the situation is veil behind false pretenses. The whole point of this process is structure how to have hard conversations. So value the truth, reflect on the situation, and state how you really feel.
Deliver Equal Parts Positive and Negative
If you can find positive aspects of the person you are hoping to provide feedback then don’t talk to them yet. We all have good and bad qualities and it is very important to show you understand this. Giving feedback is not about put someone on the chopping block it’s about helping them grow.
When receiving a gift, focus on the intention and then decide what it’s really worth.
Take the Position of a Learner
Know that the person giving you feedback is doing so because they believe it is something that you can improve on. So focus on absorbing the information so you can react to it later.
Practice Active Listening
Be present. Engaging in providing feedback is not easy, so respect that the individual is putting themselves out there as well and engage in what they are saying. Write notes if that helps, focus on them, use eye contact. Now is the time for listening not speaking. Give yourself the opportunity to hear it out before you state forming your our opinion.
Ask Clarifying Questions to Enhance Understanding
Both people in this conversation want effective communication, but one person is talking and one is listening. Ask questions about how they phrased a statement of an analogy they made. Ask about more detail about the specific situation they are talking about. This is not time to ask about why they think that. Be a listener.
Be Honest About How the Feedback is Effecting You
Don’t expect to have answers to the statements right after you hear them. That’s not the goal of this process because it is a bit more one sided conversation. You can express how these statements are effecting you.
I didn’t realize that you felt that way it’s a bit of a shock for me.
This is something that I really care about so thank you for sharing it.
Again most of this is to show the person who provided you feedback that you did listen and were effected by it. This will not always be the case but if it feel a reaction, don’t be afraid to state it.
Stay open for more learning beyond the initial exchange
Feedback is a process that takes time. If you make your decisions about the statements while they are being given, you were likely not doing a good job listening. It takes a lot but plan on listening, walking away, and reflecting on what was given. This will allow you to understand what it really means to you.
Take it as Information, Decide How and if it Can be Used
At the end of the day your the only one who can change you. Think of what is being share with you as information. It is your job to decide to make something of it or not. It was gifted to you and you need to find how it fits.
It is helpful to view frame the feedback your giving into specific categories. For example:
Try to pull positive and constructive from different groups. If you need to comment on their tardiness to work, made positive statements about how people enjoy it when they are present and they bring a lot of specific knowledge to the team.
Technical aspects often has the least emotional ties and can be easier to spoken about because there is often a more direct line for improvement.
“When I receive your code with large sections that are uncommented it makes me feel that your not really putting in the effort to produce the quality of work this group is striving to work to.”
Relationship concerns are a challenge. Conflict will exist between people always, the hope is that identifying it and providing the mechanisms to speak about it will help both parties understand what they can do about it.
“I often hear you joking about the other people on the team on the days that they are not working. It was kind of funny at first, but then I started thinking, what is it your saying about me when I’m not around? It’s been hard for me to get that out of my head and it’s making the work environment less enjoyable for me.”
- Split into groups of three people
- Two Scenarios ( a, b )
- 1 person gets scenario A
- 1 person get scenario B
- 1 person gets both A and B
These are made up things that did not happen. For the case of practice pretend that “A” or “B” is the person sitting across from you. Everything you say you have to say to a person, be considerate. Read the prompt and write note on how you could provide effective feedback if you were the one in this situation.
You’ve been working as a group for just three weeks now and you can already feel that all those little things are building up into something bigger than it needs to be. You would think that by this point in their life A would of come to understand that showers are for other people sake too. It’s really more than that, A has this tendency to make these noises when they are listening to music. It’s kind of like they are beatboxing in their mind and something just slips. “Shaachuu” Was that a sniffle, a depressed cough and errrg why the heck did I just hear it. It just bug the heck out of me. I tried to wear headphone myself but it makes me feel disconnected from the team and I have trouble focusing on work if there is music playing. The worst is lunch time. A always brings in good smelling food which is nice but I found a piece of what I think was sausage in the keyboard of the modelling computer that our team share and I swear to god my chair smell of curry and I don’t know how that could of happened. A such a loud eater too. I feel like I losing 30 mins of productivity each day when that chomping is going on. Like I said, I can just feel it getting bad. I know they produce good work and are helpful members of the team but there other habits are making it hard for me meet those same goals.
So all of the sudden my team feels like it is in a competition amongst ourselves. I know it was partly my doing, making little games here and there, meaningless bets for bonus points. It was fun, but it has seemed to morphed into something else. Each one of us has added to it but there is one team member who has really started to push it to far. For example, we all wrote a piece of this report so each of us was editing the others people sections. B offered to compile all the edits, which was nice cause that’s a bit of a tedious task. However, when they finished they also report the number of mistakes that each person made. On top of this they proudly claimed that they had the least amount of edits needed. I could see the other team members were peeved by that and I over hear two saying “I doubt B would of reported those numbers if they were not on top.” We assigned out task at the beginning of the week and B ended up staying late that day at work. The next morning we all discovered that B had started part of someone else’s main task. The notes B left were poor and when the other person asked for clarification B actually responded. “ I can’t believe you do know that, we’ve done all this stuff already.” We use to make jokes like that a few weeks earlier but this one didn’t feel like a job. I worried about bring it up now because there is a lot of deadline and B really does contribute a lot to our productivity. I just worried if I don’t work will become a negative place and our group won’t be able to perform like we once did.