A Great Management Tip for Resolving Disputes


Have you ever had to manage a team that has a decent amount of disrespect and suspicion in it?

While the level of productivity may be acceptable -they are doing their job, the level of friction within the team is unhealthy and hinders further productivity.  

This can happen in teams made up of diverse groups (such as a subject matter expert, two salespeople, a few administrative support staff and an engineer) or even within a single department (such as a set of developers with different skill levels and different approaches to testing or application architecture). The friction is rarely due to a diversity of skills or function, but rather to a failure to communicate respectfully.
A great way to overcome this is to adopt the policy: “Don’t let anyone talk negatively about anyone else unless they are present.”  This advice was given but a consultant and project manager from IBM and is some of the best advice you will ever receive.
Announce this new policy at your next scheduled Team Meeting.  Make sure everyone understands how very important this is to you.  But don’t expect them to imagine how this could be put into practice.  In the following weeks, show them!
The first time someone comes to you with an “issue” about another team member, stop them as quickly as you can without being abrupt, and then call the “offending” party into your office to join you.  Be careful to occupy the original member with questions about their own efforts and progress while waiting for the other member to arrive.  Then, invite the original member to tell you about their “issue” in the presence of the “offending” member.
Some refereeing is needed in these situations, but you will find that the offended party takes a generally more reasonable and respectful tone in stating their complaint. And the offender, if indeed they were offending, likely will be much more reasonable in their explanation.
Often, offense was taken due to limited understanding of the other person’s situation.  Create a forum in which each member gets a glimpse of the other’s circumstances, motives, and concerns.  You will find that this usually defuses the conflict, or at least makes it easier to find a solution acceptable to both parties. This is one of the situations in which a meeting can be productive.
As the members of the team learn this process in your office over time, the practice will spread.  Don’t be surprised if it only takes a few weeks before a member with “a bone to pick” brings the other party with them to begin with.  Things will get less tense at Team Meetings.  Friction will be reduced, productivity will increase, and your job will get a lot easier by instituting this simple rule.

4 Responses to “A Great Management Tip for Resolving Disputes”

  1. Sam

    This article was timely and useful.

    It will be useful to here other thoughts on dealing with matter experts and getting them to move paste their expertise. :)

  2. Team Taskmaster mobile edition

    [...] can be in short supply. But here’s a simple trick, courtesy of the Vertabase Blog, to help you resolve workplace disputes: adopt a “say it to my face” policy. That is, don’t let anyone say anything negative about a [...]

  3. Catherine Mattice

    Great idea, but only in theory.What if Jane is feeling sexually harassed? When Jane goes to tell her manager about it is she going to call in John and make Jane say that in front of John (without hearing the facts from Jane first and conducting an investigation as the law requires)? That might keep Jane from saying anything at all, which in turn will reduce Jane’s productivity and quality of work, and increase her abenteeism and probably lead her to utlimately quit… and talk badly about the company when she does, which hurts the company’s rep. And this is the case with any issue, not just sexual harassment. So in practice this tip will back fire and cost the bottom line some dollars.Another idea is to require new hires to sign a “Respecting Others Agreement” when they come on board – but that’s only another piece of the puzzle and won’t resolve the problem either.Ultimately, regulating employee behavior goes beyond silly policies. It is a direct result of the organizational culture, not policies that regulate communication. If management tailors a culture that doesn’t allow gossip, then people won’t. And culture comes from management’s own communication style and the examples they set – NOT from policy.So this tip is only part of the solution, but certainly not as useful as you portray it to be – not without other pieces in place.

  4. Mark Phillips

    @Catherine. There can be a big gap between general office politics/discord and illegal activity such as sexual harassment. This blog post is not giving advice on how to handle illegal activity. That is best left to lawyers, HR specialists and experts on the subject.

    The suggestion on dispute resolution in this post is geared towards reducing general friction by increasing awareness that the other party involved is another human being who has their own perspective. It is aimed at raising the level of respect.

    Policies alone cannot create a culture (- a friend once commented that once corporate culture is documented into a policy, the culture is already dead). The tip above is more of a best practice to clear away petty misunderstandings that can inhibit healthy relationships among colleagues. It can help create a more respectful office environment.

    And for sure, as the post mentions, it has to start with management.