Tuesday, January 17, 2012

That Internal Argument

Do you find yourself engaging in internal arguments?  The kind that runs through your head as you’re trying to relax or interrupts what might otherwise be mental quiet time?  With January being a time for resolutions – perhaps one healthy resolution to consider is letting go of those unhealthy internal conversations.  

While these battles in our mind may serve a purpose - by helping us to think things through or by providing an outlet for our frustrations - they often do so at a cost.  Such arguments often signal our inability to move past a problem or conflict.  And, as the conflict repeats in your head, lingers, and remains unresolved, it actually damages the relationship you were most likely hoping to preserve.

The alternative - bringing up the conversation with that person whom you are arguing - sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here are 5 steps to making that conversation safe and productive.

1.      Forewarn – Tell the person (you’re in mental conflict with) that you need to talk about a past issue that’s been playing on your mind.  Let them know this a conversation to bring about a better understanding – not to find fault.  At this point, don’t elaborate on any details.  If the timing isn’t appropriate, make a plan for when you will both have time to talk. 

2.      Agree on Basic Rules – Set simple rules by starting on one’s they will like to hear.  For example, no blaming.  Other good rules to follow are: no interrupting, ask questions only when the other is done speaking, and stay on the subject (avoid bringing up other issues). 

3.      Take Responsibility – Explain the issue and why it is important to you that it be discussed.  Remember they may not have thought about it at all.  It may be helpful to explain your feelings (eg: frustrated, misunderstood, angry) as a way to demonstrate the importance of the discussion, but be careful not to use this as a way to place blame.

4.      Share Points of View – At this point it is appropriate to dive into the details of the issue, but remember most of what you will need to discuss is not facts, but your perspective.  Take the time to share the nuances of why the situation upset or hurt you – and why it continues to sit with you.  Have this become a discussion where they also share their thoughts and point of view.

5.      Determine Outcomes – As you listen to each other’s perspective, you will work toward developing a shared understanding of what happened, and what if anything, should be handled differently in the future.  Discuss these until you are both comfortable that you have reached a new understanding.  Close the conversation by thanking the other person for being open to the discussion, for listening, and for helping you to clear your mind of the situation.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Office Politics

Office politics may be something we all talk about – but in an election year, the expression takes on a whole new meaning.  As a behavior brought about by those who seek power and influence, consider the potential for staff in your organization to desire the power and influence to see their party or candidate take office come Election Day.  

Hot-button issues like the economy, unemployment, and healthcare are hitting-home and leading people to become more opinionated and more entrenched in their beliefs.  Friendly conversation about current events can quickly turn into heated debate.  Repeat interactions may lead some to feel pushed, challenged, or bullied.  It is these office politics that threaten to derail your business as they undermine morale, hinder teamwork, damage productivity, and may also lead to more troubling (and potentially litigious) behaviors – all of which are sure to linger beyond Election Day.

The best strategy for keeping these office politics at bay is to get in front of them and plan ahead.  

Steps to Take
1 – Review your company policy on social or political behavior.  This may also overlap with policies on diversity.  Are there policies addressing the use the display or demonstration of affiliations, etc.?

2 – Determine what will be acceptable company behavior.  Some thoughts to consider:
  • If friendly debate/conversation is allowed, is it limited to lunch and break rooms?
  • Can a person post their affiliation in their office/cubicle?
  • Is staff allowed to congregate or campaign on company grounds?
  • How does title/role play a part in determining what a person can/cannot say?
3 – Consult with your company attorney.  While 1st Amendment Rights were created to establish political freedom, the workplace is not public property and therefore is not the appropriate forum for enacting those rights.  

4 – Talk with your staff.  Be sure all staff know the position of the company regarding these behaviors, and how they may address any concerns which still arise.  Be clear about rules and consequences.

5 – Be Consistent.  Nothing is more troubling or will lead to more discord than allowing some individuals to express their beliefs freely while others are held accountable.  This is especially true if the rules seem to favor a certain individual, a particular rank within the company, or a given political party.