A collection of thoughts and ideas for success in dealing with difficult people or difficult issues compiled by Michael Shields, Salem Keizer Public Schools, Director of Transportation and Auxiliary Services, and David McCuistion, Vanguard Organizational Leadership (VOL).
Conflict and the Dynamics of Understanding
Why conflict? The business of transporting students safely to school will have days that have disruptive conflict with other human beings. How we deal with others, especially during a conflict, is probably the most important factor in our jobs. Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker of About Leaders: Making a Difference, writing in her White Paper on Conversation Map, says that it is a big mistake to avoid situation that are disruptive to workplace environments. Additionally, she said that it is equally important to address the disruption and conflict; not only to resolve the issue, but also to insure the safety and protection of everyone affected by the disruption. The better we do it, the easier our jobs and the better we will feel about ourselves.
As documented by Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs, Every human being has basic needs that must be met before they can become comfortable is any environment.
The primary needs are food, clothing, and shelter. Other needs are to be loved, valued, and appreciated. People have a need to feel in control of themselves and their destinies. Many of the frustrations we encounter on a regular basis, whether from parents, staff, or employees, are because some of these needs have not been met.
When we are dealing with conflict situation it requires us to figure out what or why the person is frustrated or angry. People will get frustrated when they feel they are losing one of these needs. Dr. Stephen Covey encourages us to “Seek First to Understand then to be Understood”; this is habit number five in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” If we are to understand, we must first listen.
Dr. Covey tells us there are five levels of listening: ignoring, pretend listening, selective listening, attentive listening, and empathic listening. The fifth level of listening, “empathic”, is when you listen with both your heart and your mind. People often take positions (position = what they want) and dig their heels in. What you can do is find out their interests (interest = why they want it). Too often we all try to move to a solution before we clearly understand the “why.” The leader must remove him/herself from the position of problem solver and put themselves in the other person’s position to fully understand their position and conflict.
We must listen, not with the intention of responding, but to understand the other person’s position. Instead of thinking of a solution, leaders must listen with empathy to what is being said, to understand the intention of the speaker, the depth of their feelings, while watching for their non-verbal words to compliment the understanding. We must ask ourselves, “Is what I have to say really important to what is being spoken to me, will it really add to the conversation.”
Conflict is Often the Result of Unmet Needs
With many of the people that are frustrated or angry, you may never find out what their underlying problem is. For some of them it may require professional assistance. Your job at resolving the conflict is to attempt to understand what their motivation is for the subject matter before you not whether they need professional help. You must assess the situation. Can this conflict be resolved by conversation, preferably face to face? Does this person always approach you in a difficult manner? Are they swearing or using derogatory terms?
In Making Teams Succeed at Work it says; when two employees are having a conflict at work that they can’t resolve on their own, try this strategy: Ask each employee to paraphrase the other employee’s point of view. This will go a long way toward determining if each employee understands where the other one is coming from. It may be that it’s a simple misunderstanding, which can be easily worked out.
A New Look
Have you noticed the changes that have occurred in the last five years? People are questioning more, they seem to be less trusting.
If you are in a leadership role, then you are automatically in a position of being questioned about your decisions; whether you are a school bus driver and the students are questioning your authority, or an office person and the public is questioning your answers, or a supervisor and the employee is questioning your motives or intent. People today want answers; they want facts that support your answers. The public is upset with a bus driver, and they want written documentation that something was done. The bus driver writes up a student, and they want something in writing from the principal that something was done. All of us are in some leadership role and may have experienced this lack of trust.
I believe it stems from people feeling they are losing control, and they want that control back. The public is starting to vote down levies, because they are frustrated with government in general. Why, because they feel they do not have control. One of the ways we can try to offer people that feeling of control is to get them involved in the process. Find out what their interests are. Try to understand their wants. Then, work together with the information towards a solution.
The most impressive techniques I learned recently were at a three day workshop put on by John and Carol Glaser. The purpose of the workshop was to train the district teams for collaborative negotiations. These teams were from both labor and management. People donated their weekend to complete the training. So what was the training? The prime focus, in my opinion, was to understand the other person’s interests and then to work towards a collaborative solution that addressed both sides interests. The second focus, again in my opinion, was to stay focused on the interests and not on the person(s).
In the final analysis, conflict management requires several personal leadership skills that must be developed and honed in order to resolve internal strife that is detrimental to organizational success.
It is often said that the only thing that is constant in the present day is change. Societal norms play a large part in our personal norms, beliefs and philosophies. While in some cases it may be a good thing, for instance the way technology has improved our methods of doing business, more often societies norms slowly erode the basic values that are foundational and fundamental to society and organizations.
Many societal norms, in the interest of having more “fun” in life, have caused a severe and serious decline in personal morals and ethics. All one has to do is watch the many advertisements, movies and television shows that have not only corrupted our morals, but also degraded the work ethic of the populace, more especially among our young men. Young men today seem confused and confounded by the excessive male-bashing video clips more favorable of the opposite gender causing them to question the importance of their personal manhood and integrity.
Hollywood’s view of open sexuality, some Judicial rulings and political actions have slowly replaced many of the country’s basic religious beliefs in the name of personal pleasure, abortion and “separation of church and state” under the First Amendment to the Constitution. The ever increasing numbers of legal actions against people who exercise little or no personal integrity also permeate the media, which educates our populace toward changing their basic core values – values that Americans have maintained for the past 200-plus years.
I’m reminded of a speech given by now retired United States Marine Corps (USMC) General, now President of Birmingham-Southern College, Charles C. Krulak in which he tells of the gradual erosion of the Roman Legionnaires1 sense of personal integrity through the influence of the “politically correct” Praetorians or Imperial Bodyguards. During the time of the 12 Caesars at their morning inspections, the Legionnaires would strike with their right fist the armor breastplate that covered their heart and yell “Integritas” (In-teg-re-tas), which in Latin meant material wholeness, completeness and entirety. In other words, the integrity of the armor and the man was sound, solid and completely un-impregnable.
The politically correct Praetorians had the finest equipment and armor (i.e. latest technology). They no longer had to shout “Integritas” as their armor was sound. Instead they would shout “Hail Caesar” to signify that their heart, and subsequently their integrity and loyalty, belonged to the imperial personage – not their unit, institution nor their code of ideals, i.e. their core values.
Although the Legionnaires continued to hold fast to their belief, even while changing the shout to “Integer” to indicate their completeness in integrity, the steady social decline had its effects upon the Legion. Slowly because of laziness, parade ground drills were abandoned, the armor became to heavy to carry and was cast aside, resulting in a loss of personal integrity as well.2
Fast forwarding to the current era, society has taken on some of the declining habits of the Legionnaires. For example, we pay more attention to our smart phones during meetings because our distractions are more fun than the boring meeting.
Similarly, as the heavy armor was cumbersome and uncomfortable, coat and ties give way to Business Casual or relaxed fix jeans and sport shirts. Family nights and weekend football game preclude attending church or some other community service activity. The idea of making a donation to promote some community function is easier than joining in service to the community.
King Solomon also tells us in one of his writings in Proverbs that “The man of integrity walks securely”, that “the integrity of the upright guides them, and that “righteousness guards the man of integrity.”3
In a recent group discussion on the social website LinkedIn, the question was asked, “Should work be fun?” There was an article accompanying the question that focused on how to have fun at work through the addition of “organized fun activities” to enhance the workplace environment. My comment, which did result in some positive feedback, included the following:
The “fun” is in the “doing” – accomplishing the mission and turning the vision into reality. Rewards, recognitions, cakes and punch are the affirmations of the “doing,” the accomplishing, the developing the experience and improving excellence.
We need to quit worrying about having fun all the time, number one because it is not always fun due to challenges, issues and concerns, and two because the intrinsic rewards are long-term and more important than the short-term gifts of fun-time Charlie things.
I tend to focus more in what motivational speaker Mike Frank calls “Leadership PRIDE – Personal Responsibility In Developing Excellence.” I added three other “E” parts: Everyone or Ethics or Experience. Fun is about Intrinsic Rewards. Keep the Quest Alive!
Note: “Great Time” image above not associated with LinkedIn Group or the referenced article.4
The idea of having fun in the workplace often lowers standards of common decency that results in sexual harassment comments, unprofessionalism, workplace attire and behaviors that results in questionable integrity of employees.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” 5
I believe the “fun” comes from the intrinsic rewards gained from the servant leadership of all employees as they see their accomplishments from their personal efforts, and as they improve in their own lives and the leadership they exhibit as a result of their personal growth. I believe it is my contribution to the human spirit to which President Kennedy referred in his quote.
For years now, when speaking to my Navy Junior ROTC students, I have reminded them that their name and their integrity is what they will take with them to their grave. I can only hope that I am remembered for my contribution to the human spirit as a result of my personal integrity.
Let’s get back to basics of morals and ethics. Integritas!
1. Roman Legionnaire by Augusto Kapronczai retrieved from Warrior in Art Blogspot at http://warriorsinart.blogspot.com/2012/05/roman-legionnaire-by-augusto-kapronczai.html
2. Excerpts from the Keynote address for JSCOPE 2000 by General Charles C. Krulak.
3. NIV Leadership Bible – Leadership Principles from God’s Word, Proverbs 10:9; 11:3; 13:6.
4. “Have a great time” image retrieved on 2/2/2014 from Force 10 Coaching at http://force10coaching.com/2011/04/23/having-fun-at-work/.
5. Retrieved on 2/2/2014 from Book of Famous Quotes at http://famous-quotes.com/topic.php?tid=579.