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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Six Things Top Sales Managers Do to Coach Their Reps to Higher Sales

Sales coaching is the most important sales management activity for driving sales performance. Unfortunately, most managers haven’t been taught how to properly coach their staff. If a sales manager could transform into an elite, top-level sales coach overnight, the impact on sales results would be outright amazing! You’d be known as a great sales leader and the envy of colleagues.

The problem is, coaching is a skill that takes time and practice to perfect. Without ongoing sales management training or hiring an executive coach how can you transform yourself into a highly effective sales coach?

Luckily I’ve seen the good, the bad and even the ugly sides of coaching over my many years of working with sales managers. Over that time, I’ve noted what the best coaches do differently. In today's blog I’m going to share the six techniques that the best sales coaches do differently.

Effective Sales Coaches

1. Ask Effective Questions

Most sales managers started out as salespeople and excelled in their jobs before being promoted to management. So when they are faced with problems, the obvious way to think is “what would I do?” This is followed by telling the sales rep what to do and how to do it.

No one wants to be told what to do. Not only that, you want to create a team of self-managers who can think on their own. Just imagine how much you’re going to love dealing with every single issue for every rep on your team! It’s great, right? NOT!

Of course, not. It’s not great, it’s terrible. What we need instead are self-reliant reps who can think on their own to solve their problems or issues. To be an awesome sales manager you should avoid telling your sales team what to do and start asking them questions about what the issue is and to help them develop their own solutions. Prod them to think independently and guide them in the right direction. By doing this, you now have a team of reps who are developing themselves and thinking critically. Your guidance and experience can help to guide them, without them being reliant on you.

2. Spend More Time in the Field

Being pro-active is another key factor for good coaching. Improving team performance is going to have a large impact on sales concerning virtually anything else you need to do.  It is important that you focus your time here instead of on clearing your email inbox or making reports that look nice and pretty.

Get out of your office and start coaching your team.  Observe what they’re doing well and focus on what are their opportunities for improvement. Coach them to become better salespeople and help them get over any hurdles they may encounter. This type of mentoring builds a closer, harder working team while your influence provides the extra edge needed for your team to reach new heights.

3. Focus On One Skill At A Time

In sales, great results come from a combination of different factors. This makes it very tempting to just write them all down on a list and ask your team to work on each one of them. Most people find it challenging to change or improve in multiple areas; it is just too difficult.

Start by having the rep work on one skill at a time. Only once that skill is perfected do they move on to the next skill. Now think about how much attention you can give to helping your salespeople improve in one area at a time?

By focusing on one or two skills, your sales reps won’t be overwhelmed with a massive list of what to work on. A single focus lets them learn quicker, they’ll get a deeper understanding of what you’re teaching, and the result will be far better. As your sales rep sees improvement, this builds trust in your coaching and accelerates the learning curve.

4.Let Their Reps Decide On What They Work On

While it’s true that there’s no “i” in “team,” we all know that a team is made up of individual people. Each one of these people are different, meaning they all possess different strengths and weaknesses.

So what happens if you ask them to all work on improving the same skill? Well, if every rep is not committed to working on that one skill you are not going to get the results you desire.

Keep in mind that it is very challenging to change especially if you are not committed to working on that skill. By having the sales rep decide on their area of focus, they will have a greater sense of ownership for improvement.

Understanding the uniqueness of your team is important as it affects how you coach them. We all respond to different techniques, so be observant and figure out how you can get the best results from your team.

5. Have The Reps Build Their Own Improvement Plan

Once your reps identify what they are committed to working on, it’s time to come up with a game plan to help them reach and achieve their goals. You need to have the reps think through the steps that they are going to take.

The key here is to involve the reps in creating their own plan and identifying the steps needed to take in improving their area of focus. Involving them in these steps gives them an opportunity to voice suggestions or concerns as well as gives them a greater sense of ownership for their skill improvement. There’s a boost in belief and confidence as they understand that by creating their own goals and game plan it is something they are capable of achieving.

All great sales coaches use these techniques to get the best results from their team. For results to keep coming and be consistent there is still one more thing that must be done.

6. They are Big on Accountability

Getting the reps to work on improving their performance and identifying what they want to work on is all well and good, as is creating a game plan. The thing is, though, some people fall off the wagon and forget about what they have committed to work on.

The best way to keep your sales reps on track is to hold them accountable for what they do and track their results and progress. You need to review the commitments they’ve made to monitor how well they are progressing and whether they are on track.

If they go off track, it’s up to you to get them back on track and provide the necessary encouragement, advice or even discipline. Remember it’s still best to keep open communication so you can ask what’s going on as there could be a problem the rep is struggling with and is hesitant to talk to you about it.

Holding your team accountable also means encouraging success and reinforcing it. An awesome sales coach knows how to get a team performing and how to keep them there.

Now that we’ve seen what effective sales coaches do differently, it is time for you to try out these techniques.

Effective sales coaches ask thought provoking questions.  They ask their reps what they want to focus on improving.  Awesome sales coaches have their reps figure out how they can best achieve these improvements. They have them commit and implement a game plan. Lastly and most importantly, great sales coaches hold their team accountable for both success and failure alike!

All the success,

Peter C. Mclees, Principal
Mobile: 323-854-1713

We help sales reps and sales organizations accelerate their sales. 

Life and Leadership Lessons from Master Yoda

Yoda was a master mentor. He had a lot of wisdom to impart to young Luke Skywalker and the other Jedi warriors. I believe there are things we can learn about personal development and leadership from Yoda’s teachings (here in our own galaxy).

Three of my favorite pearls of truth from the green little awesome guy are:

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

 “You will find only what you bring in.”

1.     Overcome your fears. 

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

Overcoming our fears is one of the most important things to improve ourselves and grow. If we don’t we will just get stuck. But how do you do it? Well, first, as Yoda says, you have to stop avoiding your fear. You have to think about it and see what you really fear.

After you have brought some clarity to the situation, here are few tips for actually overcoming that fear.

Face your fear.

Maybe this is not what you want to hear, but in my experience and from what I’ve learned from others this is the best way to overcome your fear. And if you have handled a big fear, whatever it may be, and later realize you actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seem to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear. You may think to yourself that what you thought was a fear before wasn’t that much to be afraid at all.

Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending on what you compare it to.

Be curious.

A curious frame of mind makes it easier for us to face our fears. When we are stuck in fear we are closed up. We tend to create division on our world and mind. We create barriers between us and other things/people.

When you shift to being curious your perceptions and the world just opens up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear.

How do you become more curious (are you curious now? Then you already know how)? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.

All is one.

Our ego wants to divide our world. It wants to create barriers, separation and loves to play the comparison game. The game when people are different compared to us, the game where we are better or worse than someone else. All this creates fear whether you call it unease, anxiety, worry or concern.

Doing the opposite removes fear. Namely, that there is not real separation between beings, that we are one and the same. This might sound bit corny or new agey but it’s been demonstrated by quantum physics that we all come from the same source.

2.     Don’t Try Do

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

When we tell ourselves and/or someone else we will try we are more likely to give up or just stop when the first obstacle shows up.

When you say that you will do something there is more determination and power behind the decision. When the inevitable obstacles that always show up start to block your path you are determined. You will do this. So you find ways over, under, around and through the obstacles. And that’s what you have to do most of the time to actually get things done. Smooth sailing with no problems at all is pretty rare.

By actually making clear choices to do or not to do something—and putting power behind those choices—you are likely to preserve until you succeed.

3.     Your world is a reflection of you.

“You will find only what you bring in.”

That’s what Luke is told in “The Empire Strikes Back” (The best of the original series in my opinion) before he goes into the cave on Yoda’s home planet. Inside the cave Luke battles his demons—more specifically an illusion of Darth Vader—and is confronted with his own inner darkness. The darkness he brought into the cave that could pull him over to the dark side if he allowed it to.

I think this is relevant in our world too. We find in our world what we bring into our world. And in your world you can see yourself—your thoughts and behaviors—reflected. By observing the world around you, you gain insights into yourself and what you may need to change.

Because even though there is a big, big world out there with many possibilities and people—in the end change in your life comes down to changing yourself.

It’s very easy to get stuck in thinking that your perspective, the lens though which you view reality is reality itself. But you can’t really see reality. You can only see if filtered through a lens. And the lens is you.

Changing, for example, a negative attitude to a positive one changes how you view yourself and your entire world. But it’s very hard to convince people of this truth. You just have to choose to try another perspective or frame and use it for a month or so. Your old thought patterns may want to draw you back to the comfortable stability of your old view point.

One of our greatest gifts in life is the power to choose. We can choose to see things differently. And when we do all kinds of great things show up to help us move forward.

May the force be with you.

Peter C. Mclees, Principal
Mobile: 323-854-1713

P. S. We have an exceptional track record helping ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, operations, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Five Classic Management Mistakes (And how to avoid them)

There are some classic mistakes business owners and managers make on a regular basis. Mistakes that mean they are not getting the results they want and need from their people. 

Mistake 1: Only clarifying, and managing, ‘the numbers’

Leaders often tell us that they focus most of their attention on the ‘numbers’ part of their employee’s performance. They set objectives for producing the right amount of work on time, meeting a deadline, achieving the % increase in sales or the $ of savings. They monitor the numbers and, sometimes, they give feedback to their staff about their performance against those numbers. It makes good sense.

But what about the behaviors? What about; the way the employee manages their time, the way they build and maintain customer relationships, their ability to be solution focused, their ability to work in a team and so on? The difficulty is that managers often see these behaviors as subjective and unquantifiable meaning that they cannot be measured and managed.

But here’s the thing; Why manage behaviors? Behaviors are crucial to the success of your business. Can you be successful without your employees demonstrating the ability to manage their time, build and maintain effective relationships, develop practical solutions and so on?

Because managers also tell us they regularly judge their employees on their ‘attributes’ without being able to clearly define those attributes as behaviors. They say “he’s just not committed enough”’ or “she’s not a team player” or “he lacks creativity”. Without being able to define what ‘being an effective team player’ looks like in practice how can you help your employee improve in this area?

Identifying the Crucial Behaviors

The key questions to ask are:
· What are the behaviors that differentiate us from our competitors?
· What are the behaviors that contribute most to our success?
· What behaviors must a person demonstrate to be successful in this job?
· What do I want from the people I manage?

Of course you then need to share your descriptions of the behaviors you want and need with your employees – without making the next mistake.

Mistake 2: not helping employees to understand the bigger picture

We know from the research that employees want to ‘connect their efforts to the mission and purpose of the business’. In short, they want an answer to the question – ‘why am I doing this?’ The mistake owners and managers making is assuming that the answer to that question is obvious. Well maybe it should be, but often it isn’t.

Let’s take a look at how you can communicate objectives in a way that helps your employees understand their importance to the business. Let’s begin with the objectives that relate to the quantifiable parts of the job – the numbers element. There’s a simple process you can use to frame the conversation.

Communicating quantifiable objectives:

·        WHAT – the objective is
·        WHY – it’s important

Communicating behavioral objectives.
When you are communicating behavioral objectives it’s always a good idea to explain the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ and to associate the ‘why and how’ with a business imperative. This is because most people can relate to doing something new or differently when they can see it’s to meet a business need. It just makes more sense to them.

So it’s about explaining WHY – why we need the new behaviors and HOW the new behaviors are going to meet the business imperatives.

Here’s an example of how these principles could apply to behavioral objective for


Example of a performance objective for ‘Team Player’

I will consider you to be an effective team player when you;

·  Explain the team objectives and your role in meeting those objectives
·  Identify when your team members need help or assistance and offer that help
·  Fully participate in team meetings and events
·  Identify ways the team can work together more effectively
·  Gain feedback that you are an effective team worker

Example of how to communicate the ‘Team Player’ objective

WHY it's important

·  Major challenges facing the business - in the current economic climate we’ve got to retain more customers.
·  Challenge to us – to improve our efficiency in servicing our customer so they stay with us and refer their friends and family.
·  Challenge for us as individuals – to maintain or improve our job satisfaction during these challenging times.

HOW the new behaviors are going to meet the business needs.

·   If we work better as team we’ll improve our efficiency and customer experience
·   Working better as a team should improve our job satisfaction

In short, if we work better as a team we’ll keep more customers and enjoy work more!

It’s all about helping the employee see the importance of their work to the success of the business.

Mistake 3: giving meaningless praise

The research shows that ‘receiving positive feedback and recognition for work well done’ consistently ranks highly as a motivator in employee surveys. Yet research also shows that most people don’t feel they get enough praise. So what’s going on?

Putting aside the fact that it’s likely that some of our survey participants feel they should be praised for just turning up every morning, my view is that business owners and managers are sometimes reluctant to give praise because they’ve had experiences of being praised themselves in ways that, frankly, haven’t motivated them at all. And, of course, they’re not over keen on having the same effect on their employees. It’s actually quite easy to deliver praise badly - praise that is seen as patronizing or manipulative by the employee. But done well, its dynamite.

Here are five ways to do it well:

1. Prepare the praise
It’s interesting that many managers will spend some time preparing to give criticism, but only a matter of seconds (if at all) preparing to give praise. The result? A passing comment (literally) on the lines of ‘nice job Doug, keep it up’ Say what? Which job? The whole job? Keep what up? Not only is this type of praise confusing but, by and large, it’s not wildly motivating.

2. Be specific
Describe exactly what you are praising and why. Try the following method:
When you....
What happened was...
And the result is....

E.g. When I showed the client the research you had done on their business she said she was really impressed by the insights you had provided. The result is she wants us to make a proposal for a further piece of business. That’s a really good outcome for us so thank you and well done.

3. Show genuine interest
Ask questions to better understand what the employee did, for example, what preparation they did for a successful presentation, how they managed to design such effective presentation slides etc. Describe how you feel about what they’ve done e.g. pleased, impressed, excited (the hug and kiss might be slightly over doing it)

4. Let the praise stand alone
Don’t be tempted to mix the praise with criticism e.g. That was a great presentation. If only your written work was as good. Deal with the written work issue at a different time.

5. Do it quickly and time it well
Give your praise as soon after the event as possible – it has far more impact. Be careful not to give the praise at a time when it will appear conditional or a ‘softening up’ process e.g. just before you delegate a task or ask for the person to work late

Public or Private?

There’s an old saying ‘praise in public, criticize in private’. Though we wholeheartedly agree with the latter we’re not totally convinced by the former. Of course the principle is sound. We want other employees to hear the praise and understand what we are praising because we hope that they will want to copy those behaviors or achievements. But not everyone is comfortable being singled out in this way and some people find accepting praise in front of their coworker embarrassing.

Try delivering the praise in private. You can then ask the employee if they are happy for you to share the praise with their coworkers – say in the next team meeting - and take it from there.

What if there’s no praise to give?

Of course employees find praise motivational, who wouldn’t? A challenge is when there is no praise to give because the employee is not performing effectively. The answer is to give regular feedback rather than praise.

The best way to motivate employees to improve their under performance is to give them what we call ‘positive criticism’ – criticism that’s easy to understand and easy to accept because it’s clear, objective and fair.

Mistake 4: avoiding talking to your employees about their job satisfaction

We know that showing a high level of interest and concern for our employees results in higher levels of motivation and performance. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to have a conversation specifically about how to maintain or improve their current level of job satisfaction/engagement.

After all, who wouldn’t feel motivated by having a supervisor who cares about our satisfaction at work and who is happy to spend the time talking to us about this subject which is so close to our hearts? Some managers, though, are reluctant to hold these conversations in case they result in ‘opening a can of worms’ – more specifically in case the employee comes to them with a list of wants and needs they cannot meet.

Good point.

Mistake 5: Neglecting to set high standards and hold others accountable

This denies employees the chance to learn and excel. Employees do not want to be told, “Let me make your life easier by enabling you not to learn and not to achieve anything new.  A balanced combination of uncompromising standards and confidence-building reassurances sends a very clear and consistent message to your team: “I believe in you and I want you to win as much as I want to win.”

There are two strategies for dealing with poor performance: One-minute coaching-corrections and redirection. A coaching-correction works best with people who have “won’t do” or attitudinal problems. These people are winners and they know how to do it but for some reason they are not doing it. Redirection is appropriate for people with “can’t so” or experience problems.  There will be more need for redirection because things are changing so fast now in most fields that competencies to do a job is often short-lived.


1.  Make sure they know that a problem exists. Be specific. Share what happened clearly and without blame
2.  The person being redirected needs to know the negative impact that the error caused
3.  If appropriate, the manager should accept responsibility for not making the task clear
4.  Go over the task in detail and make sure it is clearly understood
5.  Express your continuing trust and confidence in the person

Bottom line: Hold people accountable to high standards while allowing them to hold onto their dignity as human beings.
To your greater success,

Peter Mclees, Principal

P. S. Smart Development Inc. has an exceptional track record helping Ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

How Leaders Build Trust And Increase Employee Engagement

You Cannot Buy Trust or Engagement

So how do effective leaders do it?

Have you ever done something with the best intentions only to have it backfire?

Understanding how to light up the brain’s reward network and stay out of the pain network can help you to avoid common pitfalls (thanks to Naomi Eisenberger of UCLA for her research here).

The brain’s pain network gets activated when we feel physical pain (lack of safety), social exclusion (no belonging), bereavement (loss), betrayal (unfair treatment), and negative social comparison (no mattering). Our reward network is activated when we feel things like physical pleasure (safety), cooperating (belonging), having a good reputation (mattering), being treated fairly (trust), giving to charity (safety plus = abundance).

An organization or team that continuously activates the reward network is more productive and effective. An organization that continuously activates the pain network suffers from three key leadership pitfalls:

Pitfall #1: Asking for feedback and not acting on it.

Having a 360 degree assessment and asking for feedback takes courage and helps to create an open and transparent culture. However, we have also seen this tool misused and create damage.

The damage happens when a leader asks for feedback and then either does nothing to improve him or herself or attempts to identify the source of criticism and punish it. Persecuting someone who took a risk to respond to your request is an obvious trust breaker, but why is doing nothing so bad?

When we take the time to give feedback to someone we have most likely thought about it, and feel that the person is not able to see or to prioritize something that can be clearly seen from the outside. 

When we do nothing, we discount the feedback giver’s experience and their desire to create a more positive outcome—we send them into the pain network through a sense of loss of belonging, mattering and possibly safety. Not responding may result in having them feel imminent persecution. Our clients find that combining executive coaching, once they received their 360 feedback action plan, provides long lasting desired results. Doing an employee survey of anything, and then disregarding the results is the same–it activates the pain network.

Asking is a very powerful tool. One that can be successfully used to maximize engagement and growth. Just make sure you also plan and invest resources in the follow up.

Pitfall #2: Flat or misaligned mission, vision and values.

Do you “sell” your mission, vision and values…do you sell the raison d’etre of your organization to your team and prospective team? By “selling” here we mean:

1.Starting with the market analysis (what engages and drives your people—and the people you’d like to have come work with you?)

2.Developing and designing the service or product (are you crafting emotional statements that inspire positive feelings? Does your environment match your words? Does your operating/reward system match your values?)

3.Are you marketing and selling? (are you communicating the mission, the vision, and the values in a way that sparks joy and enthusiasm? Are you identifying your tribal leaders and engaging them?)

Too often we walk into a company and find wordy mission statements moldering on the wall. Worse yet, we find reward systems that directly contradict stated values (e.g. stated value of “teamwork” but only individual rewards.)

When the mission, vision and values are stale, or not aligned, or not communicated in an enticing way, it not only does not activate the reward network, it activates the pain network. People feel a lack of belonging, they feel low social status in comparison with others who work for organizations that are alive and aligned, they may feel betrayed if there is a conflict between what they signed up for and what is happening or between a stated value and reality.

Flat or misaligned mission, vision and values don’t just fail to inspire. They hurt.

When was the last time you assessed your culture?

Pitfall #3: Ineffective delegation. Delegate, delegate, delegate!

One of our most effective processes is to identify Low Value Activities and High Value Activities. The goal is to delegate your Low Value Activities as quickly as possible.

So what’s the problem here?

Delegation sends people into the pain network when it falls to the micro-management side of the spectrum or when what we call “drive by delegation” occurs—delegating without getting buy in, commitment, or assessing capability and capacity. Both sides of the spectrum indicate a lack of trust and misunderstanding about responsibilities. Both sides are going to fire up the pain network in both parties.

Micro-management leaves the delegator thinking they are alone and have to do everything, if they want to get anything done right. The would-be delegatee feels disempowered, excluded, and low status…they can’t get anything right and their opinions don’t matter.

Drive by delegation leaves the delegator feeling betrayed (because there’s no way the delegatee can do the task or project). The delegatee feels confused, and has a sense of loss…they might have had a dream about doing just this task but now they’ve been handed it in a way that they cannot succeed.

Proper delegation activates the reward network and is a win-win for everyone. An effective delegation process includes the completion of these steps: assess capabilities and capacity, plan the outcome using a guided question format, set up milestones and implement tracking and check-ins.

Asking for feedback and input, creating mission, vision and values statements, and delegation are three powerful tools for building trust and long term engagement. Just be sure to use them in the ways that keep you and your team out of the pain network and activating the reward network.

To your greater success,

Peter Mclees, Principal
Mobile: 323-854-1713

For the past twenty-two years, we've helped organizations and companies create high performance cultures with training and coaching programs that support performance systems.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Strategies for Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Resolve conflict effectively by treating everybody involved with respect.
Conflict is an inevitable part of work. We've all seen situations where people with different goals and needs have clashed, and we've all witnessed the often intense personal animosity that can result.

The fact that conflict exists, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. When you resolve it effectively, you can also eliminate many of the hidden problems that it brought to the surface.

There are other benefits that you might not expect, such as:

Increased understanding. Going through the process of resolving conflict expands people's awareness, and gives them an insight into how they can achieve their goals without undermining others.

Better group cohesion. When you resolve conflict effectively, team members can develop stronger mutual respect, and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.
Improved self-knowledge. Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals and expectations closely, helping them to understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness.

But conflict can also be damaging. If you don't handle it effectively, it can quickly turn into personal dislike, teamwork can break down, and talent may be wasted as people disengage from their work and leave.

If you want to keep your team members working effectively, despite coming into conflict with one another, you need to stop this downward spiral as soon as you can. To do this, it helps to understand one of the key processes for effective conflict resolution: the Interest-Based Relational approach.

The Interest-Based Relational Approach

When conflict arises, it's easy for people to get entrenched in their positions and for tempers to flare, voices to rise, and body language to become defensive or aggressive Add to My Personal Learning Plan . You can avoid all of this by using the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach.

Roger Fisher and William Ury developed the IBR approach and published it in their 1981 book, "Getting to Yes." They argue that you should resolve conflicts by separating people and their emotions from the problem. Their approach also focuses on building mutual respect and understanding, and it encourages you to resolve conflict in a united, cooperative way.

The approach is based on the idea that your role as a manager is not simply to resolve conflict but to ensure that team members feel respected and understood, and that you appreciate their differences. In essence, it helps you to manage conflict in a civil and "grown up" way.

During the process, your focus should be on behaving courteously and consensually, and on insisting that others do the same. Your priority is to help each side develop an understanding of the other's position, and to encourage both to reach a consensus – even if that means agreeing to disagree.

To use the IBR approach effectively, everyone involved should listen actively  and empathetically, have a good understanding of body language be emotionally intelligent, and understand how to employ different anger management  techniques. In particular, you and the conflicting parties need to follow these six steps:

1) Make sure that good relationships are a priority. Treat the other person with respect. Do your best to be courteous, and to discuss matters constructively.

2) Separate people from problems. Recognize that, in many cases, the other person is not "being difficult" – real and valid differences can lie behind conflicting positions. By separating the problem from the person, you can discuss issues without damaging relationships.

3) Listen carefully to different interests. You'll get a better grasp of why people have adopted their position if you try to understand their point of view.

4) Listen first, talk second. You should listen to what the other person is saying before defending your own position. They might say something that changes your mind.

5) Set out the "facts." Decide on the observable facts that might impact your decision, together.

6) Explore options together. Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you might reach it jointly.

You can often prevent contentious discussions from turning bad by following these guidelines, and they can help you avoid the antagonism and dislike that can cause conflict to spiral out of control.

However, bear in mind that the IBR approach may not be appropriate for all situations. For example, you may not be able to resolve differences in such a consensual, collaborative way if your organization is in a crisis. On these occasions, you may have to "pull rank" as a leader and make quick decisions about disputes and conflicts.

Let's follow each of the six steps of the IBR approach by applying them to a conflict resolution scenario.

Imagine that you run a paper products manufacturing company and you work closely with two managers, Roger and Juanita. Roger heads up production, and is eager to buy a new machine that will increase his department's output. Juanita works in purchasing, and is keen to reduce costs. She understands Roger's motivation, but informs him that the organization won't be making any new purchases. This has created conflict and tension that is spreading throughout the workplace.

Step 1: Make Sure Good Relationships Are a Priority

As a manager, your priority in any conflict situation is to take control early and maintain good relationships within your team. Make sure that everyone understands how the conflict could be a mutual problem, and that it's important to resolve it through respectful discussion and negotiation, rather than aggression. Make it clear that it's essential for people to be able to work together happily, effectively and without resentment, so that the team and organization can function effectively.

So, in our example situation with Roger and Juanita, you might facilitate a face-to-face meeting with them to clarify the importance of good relationships and to identify the main problems. Tell them that you respect their points of view, and that you appreciate their cooperation and desire to resolve the situation. You should also make it clear that everyone needs to work together to build and preserve relationships that allow the organization to achieve its goals.

Step 2: Separate People From Problems

At this point, it's important to let team members know that conflict is rarely one-sided, and that it's best to resolve it collaboratively, by addressing the problem rather than the personalities involved. The problem is caused by neither person, but they do need to work together to resolve it.

So, in our example, Juanita may initially think that Roger is the problem. She believes that he is being defensive and demanding, but you should point out that she is focusing on the person instead of the problem. The problem is whether the organization can afford the new equipment.

Step 3: Listen Carefully to Different Interests

It's important that everyone understands each party's underlying interests, needs and concerns. So, take a positive stance, keep the conversation courteous, and avoid blaming anyone.

Ask for each person's viewpoint, and confirm that you need his or her cooperation to solve the problem. Ask your team members to make an effort to understand one another's motivations and goals, and to think about how those may affect their actions.

Encourage everyone to use active listening skills Add to My Personal Learning Plan , such as looking directly at the speaker, listening carefully, nodding, and allowing each person to finish before talking. By following these guidelines, everyone will be able to hear and understand one another's positions and perceptions. Focusing on listening will also help to prevent the conversation from becoming heated and getting out of hand.

Once everyone knows that their views have been heard, they are more likely to be receptive to different perspectives. In our example, perhaps Juanita didn't realize the amount of pressure that Roger was under to meet his production targets. Similarly, Roger may have assumed that Juanita was being unfair when she actually had a mandate to cut costs.

If the conversation becomes heated or your team members aren't listening to one another, remind them sensitively that it's important to work together and to stay calm. 

Step 4: Listen First, Talk Second

Encourage each team member to listen to other people's points of view, without defending their own position. Make sure that each person has finished talking before someone else speaks, emphasize that you want to resolve the situation through discussion and negotiation, and ensure that listeners understand the problem fully by asking questions for further clarification.

Be sure to focus on work issues, and leave personalities out of the discussion. You should also encourage everyone to:

Listen with empathy, and to see the conflict from each participant's point of view.
Explain issues clearly and concisely.

Encourage people to use "I" rather than "you" statements, so that no one feels attacked.

Be clear about their feelings.

Remain flexible and adaptable.

Once you've listened to everyone's needs and concerns, outline the behaviors and actions that you will or won't tolerate, and gain the opposing parties' agreement to change.

In our example, Juanita and Roger were both keen to get their opinions across, so they didn't listen to what the other had to say. Once they did listen, they began to understand the situation more clearly.

Step 5: Set Out the "Facts"

This sounds like an obvious step, but different underlying needs, interests and goals can often cause people to perceive problems differently. You'll need to agree the problem that you are trying to solve before you can find a mutually acceptable solution, and you should agree the facts that are relevant to the situation.

Sometimes, people will see different but interlocking problems. So, if you can't reach an agreement, you should aim to understand the other person's perception of the problem.

In our example, the "facts" are that a new machine would improve the production department's output, meet customer demand, and increase sales. But it would cost so much that it would impact the company's profitability.

Step 6: Explore Options Together

By this stage, you may have resolved the conflict. Each side will likely understand the other's position better, and the most appropriate solution might be obvious.

However, you may also have uncovered some serious differences. This is where a technique like win-win negotiation can be useful, so that you can find a solution that satisfies everyone. Or, you might need to take action to change the fundamental circumstances that have caused the conflict.

By asking each team member to help generate solutions, you ensure that everyone feels included and that they're more likely to be satisfied with the outcome. Brainstorm ideas and be open to all suggestions, including ones you might not have considered before.

Key Points

Conflict in the workplace can destroy good teamwork. When you don't manage it effectively, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly get out of control, which can result in an irretrievable breakdown in communication.

Use the Interest-Based Relational approach to resolve difficult conflict situations, by being courteous and non-confrontational, focusing on issues rather than individuals, and listening carefully to each person's point of view.

You'll find that when people listen and explore the facts, issues and possible solutions carefully, you can resolve conflict effectively.

Are you trying to resolve a conflict between your team members? Have you found it difficult to get everyone to agree? Try using the IBR approach:

  • Set up a meeting between the conflicting parties to discuss the issue.
  • Let them know that you are there to work together to find a solution, and that they need to focus on the problem, not the person.
  • Ask them to listen carefully to one another's point of view, and to use active listening skills, so that everyone feels heard.
  • Be clear about the facts and then work together to agree on a resolution.
  • Get practice by focusing on a relatively mild conflict first, and then try it on a more significant one.

To Your Greater Success,

Peter C Mclees, Principal
Leadership Trainer and Coach
Mobile: 323-854-1713

We help organizations and leaders accelerate their results.