Managing Conflicts at Work

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

Conflicts at work are largely inevitable. While some may be subtle and easily ignored, dismissed or avoided, others could be more obstructive -capable of stalling progress until it is resolved.

We each have our unique perspectives of what triggers conflict. Similarly, our preferred approach to dealing with conflict situations varies widely.

Conflict could be brought about by just about anything – the unhelpful personal assistant, the non-participating team member and those who generally come across as ‘wrong’ are all potential triggers.

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

In some spheres, what I find as being a common source of conflict include: dissenting opinions; a proposition for change; a suggestion/push for process improvement, a power struggle or even an ego trip.

When conflicts arise in the office, it’s important to identify the root cause, and determine if it’s merely a personality clash or a constructive issue at stake. At the very heart of many conflicts is a possibility for improvement or growth. In numerous cases, the best decisions have thrived because they were developed amidst tremendous opposition and refined by criticism.

In researching for a practical approach to resolving conflict at work, I observed that most shared a common theme.

Maintaining a calm disposition, talking it through with the other party, taking responsibility, separating the issues from the person, seeking a respected mediator, listening to the other’s point of view as well as consulting with HR were mostly suggested.

I particularly found these articles on managing conflict interesting: One by Alexander Kjerulf and another by Lee Jay Berman (I won’t tell, indulge away 🙂 ).

In my opinion, “it’s business and not personal.” Individuals must be careful to distinguish between the two. Shying away from conflict situations won’t solve it, neither would allowing yourself be won over every time. I would rather a situation where we are able to ‘win at work even in the face of conflict’.


Harassment Files: The Thin Line


photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

A while back, I heard myself say to someone “you just don’t barge into someone else’s personal space. It’s rude!” -and at that very moment, it struck me how uncomfortable and threatening it could get to have a stranger push up so close to you that you are able to smell their breath.

Not everyone understands ‘boundaries’ or the implication of intruding on another’s personal space. In the workplace, circumstances are slightly different, considering an existing level of familiarity between colleagues.

While familiarity ensures you don’t get an impulsive punch in the nose, it doesn’t protect you from harassment charges that may occur when one has consistently crossed boundary lines and out-rightly intruded on another’s personal space.

However, this is a particularly dicey subject especially because, of the subjectivity involved. That is; what constitutes an infringement differs considerably from one person to another. The watchwords here are #caution and #consideration.

Consequently, there’s now need to be more aware of how we come across as well as the possible impact of our actions on others. The need to factor in cultural differences, varying value systems and diverse personal ideologies have become crucial. For example, office huggers or those who find it hard speaking without touching others will now need to learn appropriate conduct while in another’s space.

Another incident that may very well be misunderstood and perhaps find its way to the harassment desk is the issue of ‘unwanted attention at work’. There’s nothing as shocking as a harassment complaint coming from a colleague who you thought enjoyed your company or flirtatious remarks. Such things as unsolicited pats on the back, unconsented arm across shoulders, whispering into ears, illicit conversations, double handed handshakes, unofficial phone calls etc… could easily be misunderstood.

The organization has an important role to play. As some of these issues can be highly subjective, the organization can instill basic policies that neutralize cultural differences in interpretation of ‘acceptable behavior’. A culture that embraces diversity should be encouraged. The induction process may also be designed to include issues around the peculiarities of cultural diversity. In addition, channels should be put in place for reporting harassment cases and punishing offenders accordingly. Failure of the organization to act may make it culpable and prone to receiving a harassment suit itself.

In conclusion, we all have varying levels of tolerance for physical contact. Thus, it behoves everyone to understand boundaries and stay within those lines. Be on the safe side. Keep it professional at work or at the very least, ensure you pick up on body languages. As often as is required, clear the air or render an apology.


I Found Love in the Workplace

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

“It’s my 20th month with the firm and I think my emotions have gone beyond a crush. He on the other hand has been here for over 3 years. We are presently on the same project and I am certain he finds me very attractive. I like him and wont mind taking things further than just being ‘colleagues’. The thing is I’m not sure if it is appropriate since we both work in the same organization. Do you think it is appropriate to be in a relationship with a co-worker?”

Dear Miss Ready-to-Mingle,
To be honest, (in my opinion at least), what goes on in another’s personal life is really out of scope for HR provided it doesn’t get in the way of the employees’ contribution or overall performance.
It’s important to note that organizations differ and so do the policies they employ. Hence, what I would suggest is that you are well-informed about relevant policies addressing such matters and whether or not it is considered as ‘acceptable behaviour’. Compliance is the watch word here.
In the absence of policies discouraging relationships between co-workers, I’d say, ‘why not!’. Work is serious enough already. Happy employees make for a more positively charged and productive work environment. If this means finding such happiness within the four walls of the office, by all means 🙂
However, there might be a few practical things to consider , such things as how serious the relationship might be or even the repercussions on work relationships if it doesn’t work out the way you had expected. You need to answer such questions as “Will the job suffer?”
Basically, if you’re going to go into it, go into it with your eyes open, and your mind certain that you can handle any possible complication, because if it doesn’t end well and you can’t stop it from interfering with your job, that relationship might not be the only thing coming to an end.
Best of luck with it! I do hope this has been useful.

Work Place Bullying: A Troubling Reality

This weekend’s post is centered on workplace bullies. They are just about everywhere, you name it.

Bullying comes in different forms, and sometimes in the most subtle of ways. Some have even adopted management styles that have been applauded for ‘delivering on outcomes’, but whose longer-term effects are actually corrosive. What isn’t realized is the damage done to employees’ morale, mental health, physical well-being and, ultimately, the firm’s bottom line.

I was going through the CIPD people management journal and found just the perfect article to give more light on the subject. Claire Warren, in an insightful fashion, identified and detailed the characteristics of various classes of bullies. The classic old-school type is characterized by very dominant, aggressive and brash behaviour patterns. The sly and reputation damager, is what she described as “the snake”. “The underminer” sees to it that you remain redundant or, at the very least, viewed as being incompetent; and “the critic” constantly magnifies lapses/errors. If I may add to the list, the “silent treatment warlord” would be one who typically offers no support or feedback but allows you fall in the ditch – showing you off to the world when you are at your worst.

Quite rare but true all the same, bullying isn’t just a preserve for managers or the top echelon; Subordinates have also been reported to bully their bosses. By deliberately being insubordinate and vengeful, some have frustrated their line managers, even, out of employment.

Bullying in all its forms contribute to the increasing cases of absenteeism, staff turnover, health challenges as well as recruitment & selection costs borne by organizations. Consequently, a dip in performance, employee contribution and ultimately profitability becomes inevitable.

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

HR’s Role in all of this:

  • At the very least, a culture of respect is the starting point. It behoves the HR department to ensure policies and practices are guided and driven by this theme.
  • As I have mentioned in previous posts, the manager-associate relationship is key to employee engagement. Providing an avenue for staff to air harassment concerns anonymously is certainly another step in the right direction.
  • Consequent to the preceding point, and after all necessary investigation into the matter has been undergone, is the need to ensure erring members are sanctioned in accordance to the operating codes of conduct/guidelines. There should be no sacred cows, and rules should be applied fairly to all. .
  • Sometimes, bullying may be more of a process problem than it is an individual’s behaviour. According to the CIPD, “bullying behaviour” may stem from how an organization conducts business or its defined way of measuring performance or instilling required behaviour. Where this obtains, senior management will need to lead the process of enforcing a culture of respect (see CIPD, 2005).

The work place needn’t be a dreaded zone. It is said that we spend a third of our lives in the company of our colleagues, then at the very least, it isn’t asking too much that our experiences be void of intimidation, fear and despair. The ultimate is to attest to working in a pleasant environment, bullies make that dream far-fetched.

We owe it to ourselves to ensure that we not only treat others with respect but that we also fight the culture of bullying in our environment.

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Bullying Doesn’t Have to Mean Malcom Tucker-Style bawling: Subtle Digs Are Just As Devastating. People Management Journal. October 2013 issue. p25.

CIPD. (2005), Bullying at Work: Beyond Policies to a Culture of Respect. (Online). (Accessed 16 May, 2014). Available from:

5 Blunders That Can Cost You The Job

I have seen enough, in the course of the month, to make me question the preparedness of some candidates to take up job opportunities, if/when such come knocking.
One would assume that everyone knows the basics, or at the very least, what not to wear for an interview. However, what I’ve learned is that what we term ‘basic’ isn’t so basic to everyone after all.
Specifically, the approach to CV writing, the quality of written/spoken english and grooming topped the list of the disappointing episodes.
This post seeks to give an insight into those habits that portray candidates as being unprepared and hence, unqualified for the job:
  • leaving your contact details out of your resume isn’t tidy.
  • Failing to vet your resume for wrongly spelt words or the name of the last organization you applied to is a definite turn-off
  • Appearing at the interview in an unironed shirt, untidy hair and dirty shoes is certainly not a smart thing to do. Poor personal hygiene communicates so much of what the resume cannot.
  • Giving the recruiter a hard time sorting through your CV narrows your chances. All dates should be arranged in a consistent order with the most relevant information placed at the fore.
  • Totally unprepared for the interview. That is; having no knowledge of the organization or being unable to defend the content of your resume.

The effort paid to being thorough and detailed when filling applications or sending in a CV often pays-off. It is your responsibility to ensure your resume is able to command a 2nd glance.

Remember not to sell yourself short!



Helping Employees Develop a Sense of Ownership (Part 2)


photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

Ownership is one of those things that’s hard to define, but easy to recognize. A sense of ownership is activated naturally in people when they have a financial or emotional stake in something. When something can be described as “mine,” it triggers feelings of accountability that are not present from a position of “yours.” To this effect, smart organization understand the importance of investing whatever it takes to ensure its human resource displays the level of commitment needed to retain the competitive edge derived from unwavering customer loyalty, sustained business expansion and employee satisfaction.

Organizations have realized that getting employees to do much more can cost much more than is required to remain profitable. Hence, exploring alternative means to achieving this sustained growth in business has resulted in the need to help employees develop the ‘ownership’ mindset.

Continuing from the previous post, this week’s post focuses on how to get employees to demonstrate much more ownership than they presently are. The following are some of the ways in which I believe employees may be engaged to think more like ‘owners’:

1. Providing adequate support for employees. Ensuring resources required to effectively execute tasks are available and easily accessible. There is nothing as uninspiring as a fired-up employee without the necessary tools.

2. Constantly taking the time to ensure employees are aware of the importance of their role to overall success of the business. This may require drawing distinct links between employees’ job functions and specific corporate objectives. Instilling a sense of relevance does go a long way in promoting a sense of ownership. When we feel what we do matters, we tend to put in more effort into making it work.

3. Shared vision: the manager’s involvement in the job often demonstrates the ‘important’ and often, ‘urgent’ nature of tasks. Consequently, to shore up the level of ownership displayed by staff, it is important that managers ‘work’ their ‘talk’.

4. The manager-associate relationship has been termed one of the most crucial relationships in the workplace. Managers must use this opportunity to their advantage by influencing the quality of work as well as the attitude to work of associates. Hence, Managers must seek to become mentors rather than dictators.

5. Provision of timely and constructive feedback communicates commitment to the project as well as the success of the employee. Endearing employees to their organization encourages them to ‘own’ their job roles.

6. Increased responsibility and complexity of tasks does serve as a motivation for some classes of employees. Once these employees are identified,  the tools along with sufficient authority to go along with these responsibilities should be adequately deployed.

7. Naturally, individuals will show more interest when they are actively a part of the project. As much as is possible, every team member should be held accountable for specific tasks and their respective outcomes -as is often said in performance management, what isn’t measured doesn’t get done.

8. Fairness in all respects (in relation to reward sharing, task allocation and other ancillary benefits) improves chances of engagement and an ownership mindset among staff.

9. Ultimately, a large part of all this can be controlled at the recruitment stage by ensuring round pegs are fitted in round holes. By exploring relevant tools which incorporate the skills, interests and disposition of employees, in my opinion,  improves the chances of achieving an ‘ownership mindset’ from the onset.

Ideally, if references were what they used to be, they would have been the perfect and most reliable prediction of future behaviour patterns. In Nigeria, as in most parts of the world, references have become a tool utilized by the friends of applicants to ‘put in a good word’ for the latter.

10. Finally, emphasis must be on HR’ s role in providing an enabling environment for both managers and associates to exercise an ownership mindset is in force. Recognizing and rewarding required behaviour may also prove useful.

Helping Employees Develop a Sense of Ownership Part 1: What Not To Do

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

Helping employees develop a sense of ownership to their tasks and responsibilities could be an interesting task, provided the organization wasn’t responsible for dampening the initial zeal to work in the first place. Nonetheless, like most things, damaged reputations can be fixed. Employees can be re-initiated back into the fold.

It’s also true that the ‘organization‘ isn’t always to blame. There are cases of employees displaying undeniably negative attributes – those true to the characteristics associated with McGregor’s Theory ‘X’ type employees. While I would rather choose to believe that these constitute the minor exceptions, today’s post focuses more on Theory ‘Y’ personalities.

For the purpose of this post, a list of 12 identified behaviours that contribute to the loss of trust and sense of ownership among employees will be addressed first. The subsequent post (Part 2) will then focus on how to build or regain (as the case may be) a sense of ownership among staff.

Consequently, the tips below prescribe exactly ‘how-not-to go about engaging staff’:

  • Withholding information from the team and excluding employees from decisions that affect them.
  • Managers not buying into the company’s philosophy thereby dis-associating employees from the firm’s objectives or the very essence for which they were been employed. Failure to properly articulate and communicate what the organization stands for is a sure way to fail at building a sense of ownership.
  • Not providing employees with the resources needed to effectively complete tasks.
  • Slow response or inaction towards challenges facing employees, which directly impacts on their abilities to perform at their optimum.
  • Publicly humiliating employees; disparaging the work of employees in the presence of other staff.
  • Having office favourites at the expense of the morale of other employees.
  • Failing on promises or consistently making lofty promises without any intention of making good of them.
  • Lack of uniformity in the system of reward. Unfair treatment in relation to job/task distribution, vacation days and the likes.
  • Failure to adequately address morale damaging behaviour.
  • Fostering a high sense of job insecurity by constantly reminding employees of how easily replaceable they are.
  • Down-playing the strengths of employees.
  • Failure to recognize achievements and or acknowledge the input of the individual in getting the job accomplished.

    photo: courtesy of

    photo: courtesy of

Staff retention is easier than most think. Sometimes, it doesn’t cost much in terms of paper work, strategies or training sessions. Retaining talent sometimes simply requires that a firm’s culture is true to its values and thus, ensures attitudes, behaviours and policies conform to the them.