Newsletter Vol. 6, Issue 2
May 2008


Welcome to the quarterly Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight how we can have stronger work relationships, communicate more effectively, and manage conflict constructively in the workplace.

I hope you'll find our suggestions useful and contact us when we can help.

Susan Gunn
Working Dynamics

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In this issue:
  • About the Publisher
  • Case Study: Manager's Non-Action
  • Four Reasons Conflict Confounds Some Managers
  • What Are Your Hot Buttons?

  • Case Study: Manager's Non-Action
    CCL Poll on Conflict, July 2007

    Situation: Manager's poor relationship with one difficult employee goes unaddressed and mushrooms into team-wide discontent and disillusionment. There are various ways this can happen. We'll give one scenario. Our case begins rather simply with an employee who has performed satisfactorily in one position then moves to another. In the new position, the employee's performance is irregular, relationships with co-workers are poor, and the employee-to-manager relationship is, at times, disrespectful. Months pass with the manager being annoyed with the employee over various issues - resistance to change, not following directions, and poor attendance, but not followed by any direct action to address the performance problems. Instead, the manager avoids the real issues fearing she might be unfair or too picky. The issues continue while the manager quietly remains frustrated and second-guesses herself instead of taking action. Meanwhile, long-term employees become resentful and give minimum effort. New employees question their decision to have joined the team and begin looking for new jobs. Now, the manager has a problem much more serious than having to deal with a difficult employee. The team is now focused on the manager's failure as a leader, expectations that appear capricious and unfair, and sinking morale -- each threatening to derail the whole team.

    How could a manager get in this predicament? Very likely, the manager entered the job without being fully prepared to handle the challenges that were inevitably going to occur. In this case, the manager fell into the trap of avoiding situations that were emotionally distressing with the hope they would "go away" or "get better." Instead, problems went underground temporarily only to reappear as more serious problems.

    Getting out of this situation is rough, but possible. The manager needs to do a combination of things to turn the situation around.

    • Become conflict competent as a leader and gain the confidence to engage in conflict constructively as opposed to falling into patterns of avoidance.
    • Provide a vision for team culture including interaction and performance standards and give the support needed for employees to succeed.
    • Reinforce constructive behaviors such as showing an interest in hearing others' opinions, open communication, creation of new ideas, and reaching out to each other through rewards and recognition.
    • Model knowledge and behaviors of conflict competency for the team to follow.
    The obvious advice is don't get in this situation in the first place -- arm yourself and others in your organization with conflict management skills before the team takes an unproductive detour.

    Four Reasons Conflict Confounds Some Managers

    Some managers continually struggle with difficult employees, low morale, tension between teams, and other costly byproducts of conflict. Quite often they are holding onto thinking or ways of acting that are making their situations harder to handle than need be.

    Four reasons some managers remain at the mercy of conflict:

    1. They perceive conflict as one-dimensional and, therefore, only see the downside which prevents engaging in conflict fully to receive its benefits.

    2. Most don't know their personal reactions to conflict and how those reactions determine the path conflict will take.

    3. Others erroneously believe that emotions need to be kept out of communications in the workplace.

    4. Too many hold the notion that their habits and responses developed over time can't be changed.

    Managers who use conflict wisely know a different reality and lead with more self-control and greater effectiveness as a result. The reality is conflict has a very rich side to it which enables leaders to take their teams to new heights in creativity and decision-making. Knowledge of our personal reactions to conflict is not only important, but the first step to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of conflict. Emotions are often the core cause of much conflict and are also the key that untangles conflict. Without emotions in workplace communication, direct and open communication would suffer. Finally, yes all "old dogs" can indeed learn new tricks! We can't change our personalities, but we can most definitely change our conflict behaviors, and we should.

    What Are Your Hot Buttons?

    See if this sounds familiar -- someone pushes your buttons and you walk away feeling demoralized, disrespected, unmotivated, powerless, anxious, angry, frustrated or all of the above! You recognize how you feel, but are you aware of what makes you sizzle the hottest or the quickest?

    Having insight into your hot buttons, and how to defuse situations, can make you feel more in control of yourself and your work, be more self-confident, and spend less energy having negative emotions. The first step is understanding your hot buttons and behaviors that typically result when your buttons are pushed -- most often, behaviors that cause further conflict. We recommend using the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP), a 360-degree assessment or a self-assessment tool, as a way to gain this insight. Working Dynamics can provide this assessment for you and we train other consultants to administer the CDP within their organizations.

    In the meantime, read about the CDP and take the free online Hot Button Quiz.

    About the Publisher

    Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a Richmond, VA, consulting firm. Working Dynamics builds collaboration and success in the workplace through development programs and conflict management. Learn more about us at www.workdyn.com.


    "Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy."

    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson


    "I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument."

    -- Thomas Jefferson


    "See problems as holes in the ground. You can dig deeper, or you can break new ground."

    -- Anonymous ________________________

    Contact us for details:

    Organizational Assessment

    Team Consulting


    Conflict Dynamics Assessment and Development


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