One of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace is not feeling able to resolve a situation that is not working for you. Sometimes people don’t even know where to start to get an issue addressed that is troubling them. That is a ticking time-bomb, both for them and the organization. A healthy workplace will provide a safe environment in which concerns can be raised in an open, honest and direct way without fear of adverse repercussions and with confidence that efforts will be made to address matters in a fair and respectful way. Effective leadership is essential in creating the right atmosphere in which individuals can flourish by having their needs as individuals met and at the same time give their best to the organisation.
Wherever people work together there will always be difficulties and a certain amount of conflict is inevitable. After all, decisions of all sorts have to be made on a daily basis and it is unrealistic to expect that there will always be spontaneous and unanimous agreement over what should be done. But not resolving conflict well is unhealthy and can lead to tension, lack of cohesion, inefficiency and low rates of retention. The key to effectively resolving disagreement is through deploying good communication skills. Effective leaders model clear and clean communication and provide support to those below them to acquire the necessary skills.
A high performing team has:
By contrast, low performing teams have a low level of connectivity which leads them to get stuck in negativity as well as a high degree of advocacy and self-absorption. All of this generates a stultifying dynamic and draining atmosphere which is very difficult to shift. Some members may withdraw from contributing to group decisions, feel afraid to raise concerns or may even leave. There is often courteous compliance and covert opposition, such as occurs where members of the team appear to acquiesce to a decision made in a meeting, but can be heard bitterly disagreeing (and worse) around the water-cooler outside the room. Such organizations become distrustful of its members, cynical about the process and ultimately disloyal to the team itself.
Making the shift from a dysfunctional organization where performance is not as high as it could be to a more functional one is not easy. But communication tools and management skills can be learned, if necessary with the assistance of a trained mediator. A good start is to understand the four basic categories of speech:
As individuals we tend to gravitate to one or more actions in our communication, depending on the context. A discussion which gets stuck in Move-Oppose-Move-Oppose can be described as count-counterpoint and is unproductive. To get out of this impasse someone needs to follow (even if only on a “what-if” basis) or make a bystand, observing, for example, that the discussion has got stuck in a series of moves and inviting or suggesting another approach to arrive at a decision. A good leader, like a good facilitator, will use all four actions at the appropriate time, feeling confident enough to let go of a need to control the direction of a discussion without ultimately relinquishing responsibility as navigator to bring the ship home safely. This requires trust in the process at arriving at the overall best result and not being too attached to one’s own preferred outcome. Ultimately, it’s a recognition that the collective wisdom of the group is greater than the sum of its parts – or any one part.
© Iain Christie, 2013. Iain offers a mediation service through StressExperts to help resolve conflict in the workplace etc…
 Losada M and Heaphy E (2004); “The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams: A nonlinear dynamics model” American Behavioural Scientist, Vol 47, No 6, 740 – 765.
 The four player model, from the work of David Kantor (2012), Reading the Room.