Managing Workplace Conflict
by Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor
Unfortunately, conflict between human beings is about as old as life itself. Is there any doubt that early cave dwellers got in disagreements about whose turn it was to go snag another wooly mammoth or who got to sleep closest to the fire? They may have lacked the sophisticated swear words we’ve developed but the conflict was there, nonetheless.
No matter the era, if you put two or more people in close quarters, sooner or later, you’ll have a conflict.
And so it goes in today’s modern office. Except that in the workplace, negative internal relationships will severely impact how well your organization operates. And ultimately, how well your external customers are treated. We all know that it’s really difficult for people to concentrate on providing high levels of external service, when there’s conflict, unhappiness or lack of respect within an organization. While it’s not possible to avoid all employee conflicts, there are techniques to better manage these challenging situations.When a major conflict erupts between coworkers, it’s usually necessary to involve a manager to help resolve it.
Here’s a process to help resolve internal relationship issues and possibly prevent the need for management involvement. Used properly, this three-step process will help maintain a positive, healthy workplace atmosphere.
We call it the B.I.F. Approach.
EXAMPLE OF AN INTERNAL CONFLICT SITUATION:
Let’s imagine there are two coworkers named Cynthia and Joe. They sit near each other in open cubicles. During his breaks, Joe enjoys listening to his favorite 80s hair band on his boom box. This music really disturbs Cynthia and she has trouble concentrating while talking with customers.
CURRENT METHOD FOR HANDLING CONFLICT:
Cynthia walks up to Joe and yells, “Hey Joe, do you have any clue how loud that is? Turn it down, now!”
Joe will likely give an angry stare and either ignore her request or turn the volume higher! Obviously, simply ordering Joe to change his behavior isn’t likely to be an effective tactic.
LEARNING THE B. I. F. APPROACH:
Here’s a better way. Let’s examine the B.I.F. Approach letter by letter:
B – Behavior – First, describe the behavior. Use specific facts or an objective description. It’s important to keep from asking questions that will put him or her on the defensive and possibly start an argument all before we even get to the point.
I – Impact – Next, tell the effects that the behavior is having on you. How is it impacting your job or your performance?
F – Feelings – Lastly, relate how the behavior and impact cause you to feel.
After that, you stop and let the other person absorb what you said. Often, that silent period will result in the other person apologizing or suggesting a solution.
HANDLING CONFLICT USING THE B. I. F. APPROACH:
Cynthia: “Excuse me, Joe… That radio is really distracting. It’s making it difficult for me to hear my customers and concentrate. It’s embarrassing for me because I’ve just had to ask my customer to repeat herself a number of times.”
Sentence by sentence, that was:
B – Behavior “That radio is really distracting.”
I – Impact “It’s making it difficult for me to hear and concentrate.”
F – Feelings “It’s embarrassing for me because I’ve had to ask my customer to repeat herself a number of times.”
Then, Cynthia stops to let Joe absorb what was said. Cynthia’s tone of voice is also very important. It needs to be even-tempered because a calm delivery sets the tone of the conversation. If Cynthia’s tone is angry or attacking, it’s likely Joe will mirror that tone and respond in the same angry way.
Obviously, The B. I. F. Approach won’t work in every case. But in many situations, it can help diffuse minor workplace conflicts and reduce the need for management involvement. Plus, you’ll know you handled the situation professionally.
Give the B.I.F. Approach a try the next time you encounter a workplace conflict situation.
We encourage you to forward this article to colleagues or include it in your internal publication with the following credit line: “Reprinted with the permission of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training www.telephonedoctor.com“