Today is part three of a four part blog series about engaging in conflict with upper management. You can read yesterday’s post here, Stand Up Against Unjust Treatment.
TALK IT OUT
I hesitate to say that management and workers need to talk about the issues in conflict because it seems obvious, but I am sure that you know it is not always practiced.
It is important to talk out conflict because “if a disagreement emerges, what you do not do matters as much as what you do.” Often it is easier to talk about and criticize the leader we work under instead of confronting the leader. In our course text, Wilmot and Hocker describe this as the “avoid/criticize” loop. They write, “The avoid/criticize loop is quite common in professional circles and the business world. One talks about others, but doesn’t join with them face to face and solve the problem.” That avoid/criticize loop can be seen in the diagram above.
Avoiding and criticizing the other person does little to create a resolution to conflict, especially if someone in task focused work has a conflict with someone in upper management because communication is already limited. Because of this reality between upper management and employees it only fosters an environment where more of the avoid/criticize loop happens.
If we have a conflict with someone in upper management we are most likely to share our disgust with the person(s) we communicate with the most. This means it is vitally important that we not participate in the avoid/criticize loop and when we do have a conflict with someone in upper management that we go to that person and talk about it directly. We saw this modeled for us in the passage of David confronting Saul.
Remember when David walked out of the cave, shouted to Saul to get his attention, and then confronted Saul on the wrongs that David believed were happening. Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll provides great commentary on this situation when Swindoll points out that “David told Saul the whole unvarnished truth; he told it to the person to whom it mattered most. Not to his comrades or to Saul’s friends or to the people of Israel, but to Saul himself. He came to terms with the individual with whom there was the battle.” This is good because if there is a conflict that takes place between you and upper management, you need to meet together, talk, and work through it.
Even though there are many strategies, techniques, and ideas about how to successfully talk through conflict, the simple attempt to work through the conflict can be constructive. What is important is to talk about the conflict because “collaboration actively affirms the importance of relationship and content goals and thus builds a team or partnership approach to conflict management.” According to Wilmot and Hocker the simple act of wanting to talk through the issue of conflict helps each person to know there is a problem which allows them to work to fix it. However, when conflict does arise most people shy away from it, so there must be a conscious decision to talk about it.
When I express the necessity of simply talking about the issue with upper management some people might perceive that as an excuse to “vent” their anger and feelings to the upper management, which is actually destructive. I want to make sure that as you attempt to talk out issues with upper management it does not mean you vent your emotions. Because communication sometimes does not happen on a regular basis on key issues in the workplace, it might allow for situations to happen over and over again which gives room for feelings of anger and hostility to build up. When those feelings of anger and hostility build up, it might be easy to vent your feelings.
Some people even mistakenly say that venting is healthy for the person who feels the anger. That is a fallacy.
Venting is more destructive than constructive to the person who is angry and the person who has to listen to the angry person. One textbook teaches, “Venting does nothing to help the conflict process.” This is especially true when you need to confront your leader. If you do think you need to vent, “do it with a safe friend, a counselor, a designated third party—not the conflict partner with whom you are attempting to work. Venting can feel wonderful for a while—but the price is usually too high to warrant the ‘Yes!’ feeling of telling the other person off.” When you decided to talk to upper management about conflict make sure you are focused on specific issues that you know need to be remedied.
Even if you do work hard to talk out the issue and not vent, it is important to remember that the leader has the authority to make the final decision. Sometimes the leader is open to the follower’s thoughts and opinions, sometimes she is not which is ok because that is the decision of the leader. In his book, Lead Your Boss, John Baldoni teaches us how to “Push Back the Right Way” to our boss when we disagree or have an idea that might be different than hers. Baldoni reminds us that if our leader does disagree with us we need to:
. . . act professionally. Most of the time, if you and your boss disagree, she will win the argument because she holds power over you and your peers. Accepting that fact does not mean you are a pushover. It is a sign of organizational savvy. It also opens the door for further dialogue. Make it clear that while you disagree behind closed doors, you will not embarrass you boss in a meeting with higher-ups. You will demonstrate your support. That gives the boss the security to know that you have her back. There will be times to voice your opposition, but you don’t want to do so in ways that will make your boss look foolish.
Baldoni gives us some great insight about talking out the conflict. It is good to remind the leader that you have her back in front of the rest of the group. As we already learned, expressing your anger and disgust about upper management to your coworkers only criticizes your leader and causes more conflict. It is important to voice your opinion and talk it out with your boss, but in the end your boss is still your boss, and she makes the final decision.
Question: How do you talk out conflict?
 Michael E. Roloff, “Links between Conflict Management Research and Practice,” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37, no. 4 (November 2009): 341.
 Chuck Swindoll, David: A Man of Passion and Destiny, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 89.
 William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011), 171.
 John Baldoni, Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up, (New York: American Management Association, 2010), 61.