To resolve conflicts with employees, don't look for compromise — look for win-win solutions, said Justin Rueb, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point psychologist who also teaches leadership courses.
But to find winning solutions, you need to communicate, he bluntly told Wisconsin Custom Operators, Inc. members at their January annual meeting.
“Focus on the goals of the person you are in conflict with. Involve the person on a daily basis. Ask him questions and together come up with goals. The process of involving someone in that goal makes him accept it,” suggested Rueb.
How a boss communicates verbally, in written prose or physically can either cause or avoid conflicts. And unresolved conflicts lead to an employee leaving or being fired, which affects an employer in many ways, but especially in the pocketbook, Rueb said.
“Easily, 50% of a person's salary could be dedicated to hiring and retraining the next person for the job. Therefore, you want to retain your people. And if you always tell them what to do, you're not going to.”
Some conflict occurs, Rueb said, when there are unclear expectations or expectations that weren't agreed upon and distrust between boss and worker. Not listening doesn't help a situation, either.
Other communication barriers happen when two people perceive something differently, or when there are language difficulties. Some people are inconsistent in what they verbally say and what they non-verbally do. An example might be someone who constantly nods his head as if he's listening, but can't remember hearing what you said.
Rueb suggested that employers request rather than order. “Because then they see it as doing something for you while you see it as them doing it for you. It's a win-win.”
Give clear and complete instructions. Then ask your workers, especially a new one, to repeat what you said. “After you've done that a few times, you develop trust and you know they understand what you're saying.”
Saying what you mean is important. Do you have someone who messed up on a job? “Don't say ‘Your performance was awful; I expected more from you,’” Rueb said.
“What did the subordinate hear?” he asked, “ ‘If I mess up again, I'm gone.’”
Rueb suggested that an employer tell his worker: ‘You're going to have to try harder, but I know that you can do it.’“Encourage them,” he urged.
Positive feedback is important. “If you want success with your employees, you've got to praise them five times more often than you criticize them. Then they will stay with you.”
Bosses should ask themselves several questions before handling an employee conflict: Do I say what I mean? Do I get to the point quickly? Do I rehearse what I want to say? Do I leave things unsaid?
Speaking assertively, Rueb said, includes using “I” statements. “Never say, ‘You are wrong” to an employee. Say, ‘I don't agree with you.’” That lowers an employee's defenses and allows for resolution.
Clear, specific language; direct statements; and complete sentences and thoughts are other healthy verbal skills.
Facial expressions and body language can work for or against an employer.
Rolling your eyes as your employee talks about a new idea probably won't make him appreciate you. Sighing, clicking your tongue, shaking your head and defensive body posture warn the employee that you probably don't want to hear what he has to say.
So use positive behaviors, such as nodding your head at appropriate times, maintaining eye contact, smiling, facial animation and leaning toward the speaker.
Physical and verbal actions abound when an employee asks for a raise. “If you want to keep the person, work it out with him. If you value him, let him know the value. But the average boss would simply say, ‘No, we can't do that.’”
A 5% raise, Rueb said, looks pretty good compared to the estimated half a year's salary to replace that employee.