Forget about regular change management — 2020 was a year of cataclysmic change management. We faced drastic changes in the retail landscape and an unprecedented conversion to a remote workforce, not to mention political and social unrest. And changes continue to loom in 2021.
One place to look for solutions is in conflict resolution. Here are five tips for leaders preparing to face the rocky roads that are sure to be ahead of us.
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
Most of us have a vision of how “things ought to be.” For example, we want everyone to attend our virtual coffeehouse on Tuesday mornings, and if attendance is low, we might be inclined to start handing out penalties or to offer excuses for team members’ disinterest.
Both of these responses skip an important step: We need to listen to what people are saying. Maybe they don’t want a vague coffeehouse meeting and would prefer a more directed conversation. Maybe Tuesday mornings don’t work for most employees, but Thursday afternoons would be great. Before we jump to creating solutions, we need to listen to what team members are saying so that we can adapt accordingly.
2. Ask the Right Questions
Listening alone isn’t enough; we have to know which questions to ask, which means inviting responses that would help create improvement. For example, if you say something like, “Jen, why aren’t you sanitizing your hands when you come into the building?”, Jen might perceive your comment as aggressive.
Instead, you may want to try, “Jen, how do you find the hand sanitizer foam we installed in the entrance?”. This question gives Jen the opportunity to tell you that she doesn’t like the scent, that she didn’t notice it or that she is allergic to it.
3. Put Yourself in Anyone’s Shoes
The pandemic has been hard on all of us, and now is a time to treat each other with as much compassion as we can muster. For example, if someone is continuously late to virtual meetings, we may need to ask them why and be prepared for the answer. They may be caring for a sick pet, dealing with children’s online schooling or simply sleeping in due to exhaustion. Before you start offering solutions (e.g., “I always set my coffeemaker on a timer”), take the time to understand your team members’ specific challenges.
4. Laugh out Loud
Change management requires a lot of meetings, and now, most of these meetings are happening online. Yes, we want to be taken seriously, but we should also make time for a lighter touch. Conflict resolution goes down more smoothly with a sense of humor, and the same is true of corporate change.
Instead of stifling laughter on calls, encourage it. Take a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting to share a funny story or close a meeting with a humorous video. Add a meme or cartoon to your emails. With so few breaks between work life and personal life, many of us are searching for opportunities to laugh out loud or at least crack a smile.
5. Refer When Appropriate
We can’t ignore the stress that our workforce is under and will continue to be under for the foreseeable future. Conflict resolution professionals are trained to look for anything out of the ordinary, and you should do the same. Anyone who is quieter than usual or who doesn’t “look right” on a call might be demonstrating a silent signal that he or she needs help. Prepare a list of possible referrals ranging from your internal employee assistance program (EAP) or human resources (HR) department to a local meal delivery service. Then, you can recommend the right resources to employees who just need a break.