Attitude is King in Conflict Resolution

By Peter Barron Stark

Conflict is a natural part of life and can’t always be avoided. Sometime conflict has positive outcomes, other times conflict has negative outcomes. When it comes to conflict, a lot depends on your attitude.

An unwillingness to resolve conflict creates tension, frustration, worry, anxiety and usually, a lack of positive, constructive communication. But what is most important to managers to recognize is that unresolved conflict undermines your ability to effectively lead. When you fail to resolve a conflict on your team, the individuals involved in the conflict, as well as others who observe the conflict, lose respect for you. It’s almost impossible to be recognized as the leader when you aren’t respected.

So why are so many managers hesitant to lean into conflict?

Some simple answers include:

– They hope the conflict will resolve itself
– They are fearful that confronting the problem will make the situation worse
– They have had bad experiences when discussing the topic with the person in the past
– They don’t think the conflict is that big of a deal
– They don’t ask about topics or situations that they’d prefer not to know about
– They feel they can still accomplish their goals and meet their needs by working around the conflict.

When I looked at our updated Leadership Development Assessment (LDA) Benchmark data recently, I was excited to see that one of the top three differentiators of the Best of the Best leaders (top 25 percent) is the ability to solve problems and resolve conflict.

Although the Best of the Best leaders are higher on nearly every question in the benchmarks, they are approximately 10 percent higher in the category of conflict and problem resolution.

The Best of the Best Leaders are clearly doing something differently to gain a rating from their bosses, peers and direct reports that is 10 percentage points higher than everyone else in the Benchmark. From my work with them I’ve learned nine things these leaders do differently when it comes to resolving conflict:

Know the importance of attitude: Your attitude and beliefs will have a huge impact on your ability to resolve the conflict. Having confidence in yourself and believing that by leaning into the conflict you can improve the situation will benefit you as a leader. However, the opposite is also true. Lacking confidence in your abilities or having a negative attitude or vision, will most likely create a negative outcome.

Assume positive intent: Most times, when you develop a negative attitude about someone’s role in a conflict, you assume the other individual has negative intent. Great leaders assume the best about people. Leaning into the conflict with the belief that the other individuals involved also want to resolve the conflict, do the right things and improve the relationship, will help you open up dialogue to resolve the conflict.

Don’t complain…take action: An old sage once told me, “I don’t complain anymore.” He went on to add, “I figured out that 80 percent of the people I complain to don’t actually care about my problems. And, the other 20 percent are actually happy that I’m more miserable than they are.” Complaining is almost always talking about things which you believe you do not control. Focusing your mind on what you do control, believing you have the ability to positively impact the future, and then taking the necessary actions to resolve conflicts will make you the type of leader people want to follow.

Quickly apologize: When you apologize, you take the target off your back. A great opening line to any conflict you are involved in is: “I’m really sorry about what happened. It turned into a conflict and that was not my goal. For my part in creating this situation, I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, some people’s egos are so gargantuan that they impede their ability to apologize for their role in a conflict. When you lack the ability to apologize, I guarantee that this will motivate some people to keep shooting at that target on your back by pointing out your deficiencies that contributed to the conflict.

Be quicker to forgive: Forgiveness is a great healer in letting go of anger. Did you realize that when you’re angry, others have control over you? We all know someone who is angry at their parents, their spouse, their kids, their employees, or their boss and use that anger as their reason for where they are in life. It’s simple but hard for many people to do. When you forgive, and then take action, you regain control over your life.

Determine the benefits: A question every leader needs to ask when faced with conflict is, “What are the benefits of letting the conflict linger?” What are the benefits to you as the leader; to the individuals involved in the conflict; to the team; to the customers and to the organization? Almost always, you’ll find that there are few, if any, benefits to allowing the conflict to continue. Most of the time, resolving the conflict brings many benefits to everyone involved.

Listen: Most conflict is created by people opening their mouths. Use your ears more than your mouth. Asking questions and having a genuine desire to better understand your counterpart’s perspective will help you in resolving conflict. Since people like you so much better when you listen, many conflicts are resolved quickly when people communicate, listen, and truly understand.

Stay calm: It’s easy to stay calm when you have a positive attitude, a positive vision, and a belief in yourself that you have the skills to get the conflict resolved.

Take action now: Most conflicts don’t improve by ignoring them. As a manager who has a desire to be a great leader, people are looking to you with hope to make tomorrow even better than things were today. To improve the team and work environment, conflict needs to be resolved. Put the above listed tips into practice to develop the right attitude and resolve a conflict today.

Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit

How to Communicate Effectively with “Annoying” Employees


by Vanessa Van Edwards

We all have those people in our life who drive us up a wall. They make choices we don’t understand and they do things that seem nonsensical. More importantly, they are annoying because they are not like us. We cannot comprehend what leads them to act the way they do or what drives their seemingly bizarre decisions.

For entrepreneurs and business leaders, effective leadership is about learning how to deal with all types of personalities — even the annoying ones. If we could better understand people’s “annoying” choices and behaviors — motivated by where they’re coming from or what they value – they would become far less annoying.

The truth is, everyone has their own Value Language – i.e., what drives someone to make life choices, what gets them up in the morning and informs their goals and actions — and most misunderstandings stem from simple differences in Value Languages. To understand “annoying” people, we have to first learn where they are coming from and what motivates them. Then, you can appeal to what they value, instead of what you value.

I have narrowed people’s Value Languages into 10 different categories. Use these to identify (and better communicate) with the “annoying” people in your office:

Image. The first Value Language describes people who value image, beauty or aesthetic appearance above all else. These people spend huge amounts of time and money on their appearance either through clothes, plastic surgery or beauty regimes. In the office, they tend to annoy us by being late after spending too much time getting ready and making hires based on presentation rather than experience. They consistently pick romantic partners based on appearance rather than personality, and tend to be vain.

Money. Money is one of the most powerful motivators. Those who subscribe to this Value Language don’t care how they make money or the consequences of obtaining it; they just want more of it. It’s not just white-collar criminals; it’s also those who annoy us by either being cheapskates in office holiday gift exchange or “gold diggers” constantly looking for free meals.

Power. Authority, dominance and gaining more power are the biggest drivers for these people. Those who value power like to be able to influence or persuade others to do what they desire. They annoy us by trying to assert dominance in inappropriate situations (commandeering an office potluck), make power-hungry moves (taking credit for a work project they did not do) or throwing their company title in your face.

Fame. Fame, popularity, legacy and notoriety are the big motivators here. We are seeing a generation of kids who speak Value Language #4 as they upload videos of themselves singing, post constantly on Facebook and audition for reality shows. During office meetings, they annoy us by always seeking the spotlight when the boss comes in, wanting to be the center of attention during presentations and doing anything to get accolades for their work.

Proximity to the Ideal. This one is tricky, but very important. Some people value being as close as possible to what they deem an ideal. For some, this might mean playing the perfect “housewife” with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever, a white picket fence and lots of time for bake sales. Sometimes, people-pleasers and perfectionists fall into this category because they are obsessed with the “ideal” and having everyone like them and what they do. In the office, ideal-seeking workers put an extreme amount of pressure on themselves to seem like they have everything under control. They never ask for help and they never turn down work projects. They are the least communicative of the Value Language types, which can be detrimental to office teamwork.

Knowledge. People who speak Language #6 are most commonly called know-it-alls; they always have an opinion and an obscure news article they once read to back it up. They often only value others who are “in the know.” They annoy us by never letting anyone else have an opinion during meetings, arguing for fun and pompously telling you about all of the books on their bedside table during lunch break.

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Angry Customers and Scared Employees by Jim Johnson


Have you noticed how today’s consumer has changed over the years? I’ve been in retail banking for 15 years now. I’ve been noticing how angry they have become (I’m generalizing here). What used to be a call, letter, or visit questioning a business practice has now evolved into rants, cursing, and/or filings with the Better Business Bureau.

There is a spirit of “you vs. me” and I’m not entirely convinced that we (the business) have brought it on ourselves. Folks are very quick to blame and assume the worse. If they don’t get their way, they resort to personal attacks – thinking this will force them to get their way.

How are you helping your team cope and manage these very difficult situations?

1. Support them when they get this kind of call. If they bring this type of a situation to you, listen to them. Don’t blow them off. These calls create stress and a “newbie” may or may not have the tools ready to handle it. They need your experience, your advice, and your calm.

2. Help them create a response plan. The response should be based on facts. In other words, don’t make stuff up! I’ve seen that way too often. A new employee gets backed into a corner by a screaming customer, and soon that employee is fabricating “facts” that are far from true. The customer then takes this new info and makes things even worse.

The response plan should focus on listening to the complaint and then offering solutions. Help your team by getting them to focus on facts and not emotion.

3. Sit in on the call. If you can, take the time to sit in on the difficult call. This is a great coachable moment! Your team member will appreciate you being there. If things escalate out of control, you can take over the call.

4. Know when to fold ’em. There are rare times where it is necessary to “fire” the customer. No matter what you do or say or give back, they are angry and unreasonable. They threaten, bully, and become perverse. It’s time to cut the relationship. They can take their business elsewhere.

Will they tell others this has happened? Yes. Will others be influenced by them? Maybe. Maybe not. If their rants with you are common, it’s likely that those who know the ranter better know this even more. Blow-hards aren’t widely respected.

5. Debrief after the event. When your team member has successfully handled a tough call, talk with them about what went well and what did not. Teach. Coach. Listen. Encourage. Calm. This will make the next call easier and take the fear factor away.

It can be rough sailing these days with angry consumers. It’s your job as a leader to help your team navigate these periodic stormy seas. Your team member wants to become better at handling difficult circumstances. Your team member and your company will be the better with your investment of development.

5 Ways Leaders Can Reclaim Their Identity


by Glenn Llopis

The first job I had was with a large Wine & Spirits company. It was a top-down, best-practice, zero-defect, career-path, fear-based culture. Everyone was accountable to someone else, and had to follow a set of policies and procedures. In this company, you were not encouraged to freely express your individuality. In fact, in the classical ways of bureaucracies, the best sales people had been promoted into management – where they were floundering because they lacked the right types of skills to succeed in their new roles. A great sales person is not necessarily a great manager. But this company didn’t care about the consequences they created. This was a linear-thinking, cookie-cutter, no-individuals-for-hire organization.

Over time, I began to realize that I was working in a culture that didn’t value individuality in its people or client relationships in its business. The only thing that mattered was the transaction; it was a “what have you done for me lately” environment. It was never about my or anyone else’s personal growth and development – or what would help us find success and eventual significance. It was about control. It was about the company.

Granted, I learned the importance of discipline, structure and protocol – valuable lessons that I continue to apply diligently in my work. But effective leadership requires so much more, not the least of which is one’s ability to earn trust from others, while at the same time learning to trust one’s self. These are qualities hard to come by in the traditional workplace that I described, which has historically shaped, trained and defined the voices of their leaders for them. This meant that leaders were valued based on the overall performance of the organization and credibility of the corporate brand.

If the organization was performing well and recognized as a market leader in their industry, leaders in that company were considered for higher paying jobs and/or more senior titles and responsibilities – not just from within but often targeted by executive recruiters.

In this not too distant past, an organization defined and influenced the career path of its leaders; in many cases, much more than the individual leader did. This career advancement formula still exists today, but not as much. Companies that recruited top talent away from successful organizations often found that their leaders could not transfer their formula for success. Perhaps these leaders never really had their own formula.
This herein defines the identity crisis that most leaders are faced with in today’s 21st century global marketplace.

Leaders from the traditional workplace are a by-product of the companies they were “raised in.” A workplace where it’s not about the individual, but about the perpetuation of the organization. Where one must often check their best and most authentic selves at the door as they walk in each morning, and learn to conform to the company way of doing things.

In this kind of organization, you can be whatever you want to be – as long as the company already has a slot for it. Individuality? Forget it. Building an authentic personal brand? Not going to happen. Diversity as a profit center? If there are diversity programs, they are tactical inclusion initiatives to comply with corporate governance and regulations or gain access to a particular talent pool.

The traditional workplace is so internally focused they make it difficult for you to market and transfer your skills to a new organization. As such, you are trapped as a leader and you begin to fall victim to an identity crisis. The traditional workplace wires you to be successful for one company – and only that company. And woe betide you if that company has to exit the line of business you are an expert in. Your skills won’t even be relevant within your own organization. Really makes you think, doesn’t it?

Leaders can never afford to lose their identity. Why? You can’t optimally perform and lead when you feel stuck between being yourself and what others want you to be.

So how does a leader start to reclaim their identity? Here are five things you must spend more time doing to become a more effective, confident and relevant leader:

1. Define Your Own Leadership Style/Approach
I am often amazed at the inauthenticity of our leaders. Many will copy someone else’s approach to leadership, rather than simply using it as a guide or inspiration to help them define an authentic way of leading that reflects their own style.

What is the process and approach by which you create successful and sustainable performance for the organization and the teams that you lead? Is there a step-by-step framework that complements and supports the natural ways that you lead?

Become more aware of your leadership style and approach. Once you can define it, create a framework and/or methodology to support it. Once you can do this, it makes it easier for you to help others understand your expectations, how you think and your methods to develop people and drive results. Your identity as a leader will get discovered and you will be appreciated for your authenticity. It will also help you more quickly identify who you can most efficiency and effectively work with – and those you cannot.

2. Learn How to Tell Your Story
Discover your own voice and learn how to communicate and share your story. What is your backstory and how has it shaped your leadership identity? There is a reason you enjoy being a leader. Your life experiences since childhood have shaped your thinking and how you managed opportunities along the way have influenced your views – the lens in which you see through – as a leader. What are your experiences and the opportunities that you managed? These are the stories of your leadership journey.

To reclaim your leadership identity, you must know it well enough yourself before you can effectively share it with others. This is why most leaders are challenged when they try to express their points of view about leadership, especially in writing. People forget that being a leader is a very personal thing. In the end, you are accountable to people. This means that you are extremely responsible for your actions and the expectations are high.

Define your story and write about it, speak about it and learn about it. This means that you must become a more active and effective writer, speaker and student of leadership. Become a contributing leadership writer for an industry publication – or start your own blog. Speak more actively at industry events, get a speaking coach, and learn how to tell your leadership story. Earn the right for your voice to be heard and influence outcomes. Learn how others interpret your identity, but don’t let them define it.

3. Never Stop Learning & Growing
To be an effective and sustainable leader, you must be equal parts student and teacher. Yet too many leaders are “selling themselves” (not knowing what they are selling) to get attention rather than educating themselves and others to advance the healthier whole.

Your identity becomes stronger as you continue to enrich your mind with meaningful and purposeful knowledge that supports and complements who you are and the impact you want to create as a leader. Continually educate yourself as a leader and appreciate the journey – the opportunity to grow organically. Don’t rush the leadership development process. Be aware of it and learn from it.

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What Should You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do? Listen To The Original Dr. Spock (No, Not That One) He Still Has The Answers


by Paul B. Brown

Pop quiz.

Who said: “You know more than you think you do.” Was it:

A) Einstein, when people would tell him they would never understand his theory of relativity.

B) Steve Jobs, when people would say he was genius.

C) Pediatrician Benjamin Spock in talking to first-time parents.

D) Your Mom before a big test that you were sure you were going to fail.

While I am sure your mother may have said it. The answer really is C. It is the first sentence of Dr. Spock’s classic Baby and Child Care

That quote came to mind on a visit to New Directions, “the life portfolio company” based in Boston. They spend a lot of time working with people, who through no fault of their own, are suddenly out of a job and others—who as the name of the company suggests—want to take their working life down a different path.

New Directions argues that these people need to become the CEOs of their own life. It is analogous to our position about how everyone needs to become an entrepreneur, although there is an important difference. The term CEO congers up the image of a boss directing a staff; others are doing the work. The word “entrepreneur” evokes the image of you doing things yourself.

That said, one of the things New Directions does that we really like is point out that while the idea of taking control of your working life can be initially unsettling, you come to this new phase with far more skills than you initially may have thought. You know how to do everything from write a business plan to create fundamental marketing messages and you can use those skills to market, position and price you.

In other words, Dr. Spock was right, you know more than you think you do.

It’s an important point, given how the business world has changed.

In a world where you can no longer plan or predict your way to success, what is the best way to achieve your goals? It is a daunting question, but today—when saying “change seems to be the only constant” has become a cliché because it is so true—it’s one everyone has to resolve.

Given this uncertainity, people tend to freeze. They say “I don’t know what to do.” But as Dr. Spock would respond, “of course you do.”

In the face of uncertainty act the way you did as a toddler, when you knew very little about the world around you. You took a small action and learned from it. If something was wrong, you cried and Mom made the problem go away. Next time there was a problem you cried.

You had never seen a cat before. You wondered what would happen if you pulled its tail. You did and got scratched…and you never pulled its tail again.

The way you mastered the universe as a toddler is exactly the same way successful serial entrepreneurs–people who are experts at uncertainty (after all, what is more uncertain than starting a business–proceed.

You should approach the unknown as they do:

1. Start with desire. You find/think of something you want. You don’t need a lot of passion, you only need sufficient desire to get started. (“I really want to start a restaurant, but I haven’t a clue if I will ever be able to open one.”)

2. Take a smart step as quickly as you can toward your goal. What’s a smart step? It’s one where you act quickly with the means at hand: What you know, who you know, and anything else that’s available. (“I know a great chef, and if I beg all my family and friends to back me, I might have enough money to open a place.”) You make sure that step is never going to cost more than it would be acceptable to you to lose should things not work out. And you bring others along to acquire more resources, spread the risk and confirm the quality of your idea.

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Customer Service is No Longer a Script; It’s a Conversation


by Tricia Morris

According to a recent Ovum study of more than 8,000 consumers, 74% now use at least three channels when interacting with an enterprise for customer related issues – and this stepping stone approach to resolution is forever changing the way service and support agents communicate with customers.

For many brands, customer support scripts have been a long-time staple for standardizing the service process and ensuring predictable outcomes in customer interactions. But no more, as customer movement across multiple channels requires brands to literally carry on a conversation from one channel to the next.

Seamless Service

More and more customers are now expecting service and support to be agile – that they can start an interaction at one point, whether that’s phone or email or help desk, and the brand or organization should be able to carry over that information and continue the conversation as the customer arrives at the next touchpoint (perhaps social, mobile or chat). This could be across a timeframe of a few days or hours, or with the convergence of channels such as social and mobile, it could be just a few minutes.

The ability to carry on that customer service conversation across one, two, three or more channels without the consumer ever having to start over again is now a key customer experience differentiator, requiring many large organizations with siloed customer service processes to now rethink and reorganize to centralize channels. Add to that, the desire and expectation for increased personalization, and the evolution of customer conversations becomes even more complex.

Says Don Wardell, author of the study “Scripting the Service Encounter: A Customer’s Perspective of Quality”, “(Consumers) want the interaction to feel sincere and natural, and not feel robotic.
“They want to feel like the person cares about their request and that they’re being treated as individuals, not some mass-produced commodity.” The more brands can customize and personalize each customer service interaction using customer data, the better the impression.

So ditch the script. Echoing the words of IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in a recent Forbes interview on ways technology will transform the future of business, “If you have a call center, it’s no longer about a script,” she said. “It’s about a dialogue.”