Recognize Hot Spots to Better Manage Conflict

Earlier this month I facilitated an executive management retreat for a large non-profit community health organization. When brainstorming opportunities for improvement one individual stated, “We need a strategy to deal with red alerts when they happen.” Everyone in the room smiled, instantly recognizing what she was referring to.  This was clearly a high performing team, with enough self-knowledge to recognize their hot buttons and enough courage and openness to share them with their colleagues.

What are hot spots or red alerts?

Hot spots or triggers are very individualized.  What sets off one person may not even register on the radar for another.  But it’s probably fair to say that passive aggressive statements would set off most people and cause conflict.  Passive aggressive statements are defined as an indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, resentment or a deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish a requested task for which one is responsible. There are ample examples of passive aggressive behavior in the workplace. And such conduct causes lots of conflict.   Neglecting an assignment or an instruction from a manager because you feel it’s beneath your pay grade would be passive aggressive conduct.

Lack of follow through may be a hot button for a senior executive who relies on her leaders to keep abreast of multiple assignments. When that leader can identify this as a hot button her team will be better able to manage her expectations of them and their performance.

Why are hot spots a problem?

Making comments about performance in a group setting is problematic.  It causes individuals to loose face in front of their colleagues. Performance related problems should be handled one-on-one between the team lead or supervisor and the individual.  When communication is indirect, such as unsubstantiated  allegations of performance problems and the use of threats,  people get defensive.    If the senior executive in the example above begins to resent her leaders for failing to follow through and makes sarcastic comments, then her behavior becomes an issue for her team.  Team communication is impeded by sarcasm and veiled threats.  Team members are likely to get defensive.   Defensive communication rarely solves problems.  It more often creates them.   It causes conflict, which if not managed properly, can escalate.

Conflict management tips for employees

When you work for someone if you know their triggers you will be in a better position to manage conflict that could result when the hot button is set off.  Be open and ask your supervisor to identify his/her hot buttons.   Ask him or her about preferences for managing their trigger issues.

Conflict management tips for leaders

If you’re a supervisor  identify your hot buttons or triggers and tell your team.  Create an environment where people can openly express problems before they mushroom.  Nip sarcasm in the bud. Give negative feedback sensitively and privately.  Create a team where people can problem solve together.

Earlier this month I facilitated an executive management retreat for a large non-profit community health organization. When brainstorming opportunities for improvement one individual stated, “We need a strategy to deal with red alerts when they happen”.  Everyone in the room smiled, instantly recognizing what she was referring to.  This was clearly a high performing team, with enough self-knowledge to recognize their hot buttons and enough courage and openness to share them with their colleagues.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

 

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