Personality conflicts are inevitable when people work togetherclosely.
Job-related problems lead to clashes in emotions, values, andneeds. Here’s what might typically happen. Edna has been Mark’s supervisor for about a year, and untilrecently, they got along well. Then both began reacting to anincreasingly heavy workload.
As a result, Edna has become frustrated and short-tempered andtends to vent her feelings by getting angry at Mark. Although Markappears to be more emotionally calm, he is actually very anxious anddepressed about the situation. Besides this conflict of emotions, there’s also a conflict ofvalues. Edna recognizes that a problems has developed in herrelationship with Mark.
She has tried to talk it over with him becauseshe believes in expressing her feelings openly. The trouble is,Mark’s family background taught him to avoid confrontation and keephis feelings to himself. Their needs are in conflict, too. Edna has a strong need forachievement and is intent on getting the work done.
Mark has a strongneed for approval and functions best in a relatively stressfree workenvironment. Unfortunately, as Edna pushes harder for an increase inproductivity, Mark feels more stressed and produces less. Mark reacts to Edna’s escalating demands by trying to denythat any problem exists, thus avoiding confrontation. He capitulates,allows Edna to dominate, and attempts unsuccessfully to satisfy her.
Neither individual’s behavior will resolve the workloadproblem or strengthen their strained relationship. Denial, avoidance,capitulation, and domination can’t solve problems. They must collaborate on a way out of their difficulties. Afive-step approach can minimize the harmful effects of personalityconflicts and help a supervisor and an employee focus on real problemsolving.
1. Define the problem in terms of needs, not solutions. Edna needsa rpdocutivity increase to handle the heavy workload. Mark needsEdna’s approval and longs to have a comfortable work environmentonce more.
2. Brainstorm possible solutions. They should generate as long alist as they can, without evaluating any of the solutions until the listis completed. In fact, they should agree in advance that neither willsay, “It will never work” or “That’s a dumb idea” or “We’ve tried that already.
” Edna and Mark might prepare the following list of potentialsolutions: Work longer hours, request temporary assistance, ask thelaboratory chief to hire more staff, eliminate nonessential workactivities, negotiate with the laboratory chief for a more reasonableworkload, apportion the workload more evenly, batch tests as much aspossible, ask for volunteers to work extra hours for overtime pay, allowlonger turnaround for all tests except those requested Stat, scale downproductivity expectations, ask other work groups for temporaryassistance, buy faster fully automated instruments, and have thesupervisor pitch in at the bench. 3. Select the solution that best meets joint needs. Those affectedby the problem–Edna and Mark in this case–should review the proposedsolutions.
They should identify their individual preferences and givereasons for these preferences. The aim is to come up with mutually acceptable choices. It’sunlikely that the two will agree on their frist choice, but a commonsolution will often show up among their top three suggestions.What’s important is that each person feel her or she can live withthe solution, even if it is not entirely to one’s liking.
4. Implement the solution. Plan who will do what, where, and bywhen. Make these assignments in writing and be very specific.
Most ofthe solutions on the list prepared jointly by Edna and Mark requiresupervisory implementation or a request by the supervisor. 5. Evaluate at a later date how well the solution worked. Whileboth parties may prefer a particular solution, it might not deliver thedesired results.
Follow-up assessment is essential in the collaborativeproblem-solving process. If the implemented solution falls short of expectations, thecollaborative problem solvers should determine why. If nothing can bedone to salvage the situation, they have to go back to their originallist of solutions and select a new alternative for implementation. In collaborative problem solving, success depends on how fully youaccept the following beliefs: * You are important to me.
I want to understand your needs andwill try to satisfy them. In return, I expect you to try to understandmy needs and try to satisfy them. Edna is determined to run the section smoothly, regardless of theworkload. But she must accomplish this without making Mark feeloverwhelmed and stressed.
* I value your creative thinking. I want your help in generatingpossible solutions to our common problems and believe that we canjointly develop innovative and superior solutions. Even if Edna thinks she already knows how to solve the problem, shewould be wise to listen to Mark’s ideas. Mark is the expert onsolutions that will satisfy his needs.
* We can work together effectively. We are willing to make jointdecisions and develop a coordinated plan to help each other meet ourneeds. Edna must be prepared to give more than lip service to Mark’ssuggestions. To reach a solution they can live with, the two partieshave to act in concert.
* We can change our behavior. We don’t have to let ourdisagreements affect how we treat each other. Regardless of anydifferences in opinion, we can enhance our work lives and improve ourrelationship. To do so, we must try to be friendly, cooperative,understanding, and respectful when working together to solve our commonproblems.
Edna’s displays of temper detract from problem solving.Likewise, Mark’s anxious and depressed behavior does little toimprove the workload picture. * We want to improve as problem solvers. We are not locked intoany one solution.
If our decision is not as good as we hoped, we canwork to make it better or adopt an alternative approach. Collaboration simplifies the task of picking up the pieces. NeitherEdna nor Mark loses face in abandoning a shared solution. Beware of several pitfalls, however.
Take hidden agendas, forexample. Effective collaborative problem solving depends on openness.If either collaborator has already decided on a solution and isdetermined to force it through, an impasse is likely. Suppressed emotions block the process.
You can’t solveproblems when you harbor strong feelings and resentment. Clear the airbefore you start problem solving. Faulty problem definition confuses the process. Unless you definea problem in terms of needs–yours and the other person’s–youwon’t find solutions that are mutually satisfactory.
We cautioned earlier against evaluating proposed solution as soonas they are voiced. That seriously impairs brainstorming. List allsuggestions without question, no matter how “way out” theysound at first. Once you agree on the best solution to the problem, pay closeattention to working out all aspects of implementation.
Good solutionscan fail if you don’t pay sufficient attention to the details. You or your collaborator may have second thoughts about pointsagreed to during a problem-solving session. If these thoughtsaren’t aired, the solution may be jeopardized. It’s criticalto check periodically with each other on individual progress inimplementing the solution and to address any difficulties encountered.
If you avoid these traps, you can make collaborative problemsolving work for you. It will help protect your relationships withco-workers and also enable you to resolve the inevitable problems thatarise when people work together closely.