Your boss just announced you’ll be working this weekend—when you’ve already made plans. Earlier, your presentation was sabotaged by the project leader. And before that, your assistant dropped the ball on your travel arrangements, so you’re going to miss the first day of an important conference.
Every day, the workplace offers the potential for conflict. Navigating business relationships and on-the-job discord can be tricky, and women tend to approach and resolve it differently than our male counterparts. Luckily, the qualities that make us different can be used to our advantage.
How Women Approach Conflict Resolution
Conflict triggers are different for men and women:
- Women feel conflict when relationships are threatened. For men, it’s more about their position in the business world.
- Women tend to be more sensitive to personality conflicts, as well as to gender-role stereotypes – especially if the stereotype has little to do with the job. (Think of the only female in a meeting being asked to fetch coffee.)
- Men tend to shake off workplace slights, negative personal comments and personality differences more quickly.
When conflicts arise, women talk in depth and at length about the disagreement, and focus on their participation in the relationship. They voice concerns about fairness and can be more accommodating to others’ needs than to their own. In contrast, men tend to use more linear language when discussing a dispute.
The Strategies Women Offer
The good news is that women don’t have to conform to workplace gender and conflict perceptions. To paraphrase Gandhi, women can “be the change we want to see in the (working) world.” We can change the gender triggers that may make us feel that we’re worth less – or are less worthy to be at the table. Here are a few strategies to employ:
ectations tend to follow behavior. So, if women behave as though we are entitled (to better pay, a voice or a promotion) we will be treated as though we are entitled.
- The expectation that women won’t negotiate as strongly as men can be changed by doing just that.
- Reduce typical gender triggers by repositioning the framework of the conflict or negotiation. For example, instead of taking it personally or focusing on the relationship, reframe the disagreement as counterproductive to the project, which affects everyone on the team.
- Separate your identity from the conflict. Focus on what is being said, not how it makes you feel. You may even realize that the message says more about the sender than you.
- Women often enter negotiations with a collaborative mindset, believing that both sides can benefit. This can be a great advantage over men, who often see negotiations as a competitive exercise.
At work, women may avoid speaking or standing up for their beliefs, so they don’t appear too masculine or aggressive. We do this because of our fear of harming relationships.
It might help to lose the term “aggressive,” with its negative connotations, and embrace the term “assertive.” In addition, flip the fear of perception on its head. Instead of being concerned with how you will look if you take an assertive stance on an issue you care about, think about how you will look if you don’t. After all, you don’t want your employer to wonder why they ever hired you, right?
About the author: Melissa Russell writes on leadership management and negotiation. She also writes on topics such as business administration and corporate sustainability for a number of universities through the University Alliance. Find Melissa on Twitter @M_L_Russell.
Human Resources. Should it be this stressful?
I do know it doesn’t get easier with time. It changes. There are good days, bad days, great days, and days I just say, “YES! I am thankful, happy, and blessed to be in this profession.” Then, there are other days.
I had a stressful morning. You know, one of those where things occurred at the office that were human-related and I was frustrated. Once the emotion settled, I knew I needed to problem solve – but not before I had an ice cream cone. In order to enjoy my dipped cone on this warm day in my car, I needed 4 napkins to cover my lap, my windows up, sunroof closed, and the air conditioning on. No need to add any more stress – like quickly melting ice cream!
As I was driving, I likened Human Resources problem solving to that ice cream cone and offer you these tasty tips:
Take time to understand varying viewpoints
When I have a stressful day, it is important for me to consider the issues and the various perspectives and viewpoints and to cover all aspects. I also needed to create the right conditions for working through the issues at hand. (Hence, the alone time driving to and from Mc-fast food.)
A little problem-solving time for me to understand the various viewpoints in preparing my response was necessary to create the right conditions to address the issue.
Savor all aspects of an issue, but do it quickly
I wanted to enjoy the cool ice cream, the chocolate flavor, and the crunchy cone yet I couldn't take much time in relishing those individual flavors because, no matter what the conditions, ice cream is going to melt quickly.
To be credible, HR professionals must be able to help find a solution in a timely manner. Sometimes that means making a tough decision yourself. Often it means coaching a manager toward making that tough decision – quickly. Without timely decision-making, the opportunity to be seen as a partner to other departments will be lost.
Enjoy what you like
I so enjoy the chocolate that is delicately wrapped around the soft-serve ice cream – it tastes wonderful to me, and in just the right amount!
I take pride in helping our team work solve sometimes simple, sometimes complex people-issues. I am humbled to be called upon by many to help and I appreciate having a seat at the C–suite table. It is important to remember all the wonderful aspects of this job we call Human Resources. Maybe, or particularly, when we are dealing with something we don’t like as much.
Deal with the things you don’t like
Believe it or not, I don’t love the vanilla ice cream except as part of the chocolate-dipped cone. Yet, as I finished the chocolate and continued to keep the vanilla ice cream in check (aka, not dripping on to me), I found myself enjoying the cool, refreshing vanilla ice cream.
As I worked through the morning’s frustrations in my head during my Mc-drive, I came up with some viable solutions to present forward. When you deal with the things you don’t like, you may will find value, and even learning, in the experience.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture
Sometimes the single things are not as relishing as the entire bundle.
That lovely, crunchy wafer ice cream cone held together all that I had desired – my chocolate-dipped, soft-serve vanilla ice cream. I love the crunch of that cone as much as the rest of it, if not more. I felt satisfied as I finished it off. That ice cream cone was good. As well, I had thought through my earlier frustrations, seeking resolution, and framing the coming conversation.
So, tell me. What food related analogies have come to your human resource rescue?
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Dorothy Douglass is an HR professional who has served in HR and management roles for 20 years+ who considers herself fairly tech-UNsavvy. She is the VP of HR for MutualBank , has been with them for 10 years and is in her third year at the Graduate School of Banking in Madison, Wisconsin. She is one of few HR professionals privileged to attend the full 3-year banking program rather than the 1-year HR program. Masochist? Maybe. But it's made her a better banker, for sure.