Active Listening – The Key to Resolving Conflicts

Sometimes being a frontline manager is a thankless job. You’re required to keep your staff motivated to work long hours, producing superior work product and remain “happy campers” even if their annual raise this year was not up to their expectation. Each person on your team is an important cog in the wheel that keeps your department running smoothly. Unfortunately, when someone on your team is not carrying her weight, resentment amongst the other staff members may surface. It is so true that “One bad apple can spoil the whole bushel”. What makes it worse is, if one person is consistently late to work or never completes their assignment on time and you allow this to continue, the other staff members blame not only the non-performing individual, but also you. If you notice a member of your staff falling behind in their work performance, you need to address it immediately before the resentment starts. But who wants to take on the ugly task of disciplining your staff? We’ve all gone through it. Bringing the individual into our office, closing our door, seeing the rest of the staff whispering to each other: “Kim’s going to get it now!” Hoping that we can have a calm constructive conversation, but instead it explodes into a shouting match with the individual storming out our office screaming: “You JUST don’t understand!” Unless you work in “Pleasantville” it has or will happen to you soon.

The key to a productive session with an employee is to make sure they are open to listening to your suggestions. Whenever you point out anyone’s weakness, their first response is to become defensive and on guard. Their mind is focused on what to say in their defense and not on what YOU are saying. You will never be able to work through the problem until the individual is actually listening to you. You must “defuse” the employee. This is accomplished through a technique called “active listening”. For example, you have an employee that is late to work every morning. You’ve just reminded her that the office hours are from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, not 8:45 to 5:00. She crosses her arms and quickly blurts out that traffic has been extremely heavy lately. You respond with “You are right, it has been pretty heavy lately. Tell me about it.” Let her talk and listen very closely, focusing all you attention on her. Don’t interrupt. After she is done talking, you may mention that her coworker in the next cubicle is coming from the same area and she gets to work on time. She may answer back with a defensive “Well, Sally doesn’t have kids!” You say “You’re right she doesn’t” and pause to let her speak if she wants. If she still sounds angry, say something like: “You seem angry at me” and pause again to let her speak. Each time you let her speak uninterrupted she relieves her stress, becomes less defensive and starts “losing her steam” as some put it. You keep repeating the procedure, each time letting her speak out about anything she wants with no interruptions and you will notice that her defensive body language disappears, she begins to open up and is more apt to listening to your comments. Only when this happens are you both ready to constructively find a solution to the problem. This technique requires a lot of patience on your part, but you will be very happy with the results. This method will gain you major “kudos” when your boss sees you quickly and effective solving a major situation without the regular shouting match and door slamming.


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