Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 42;   October 15, 2014: Preventing Toxic Conflict: II

Preventing Toxic Conflict: II

by

Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.
Tennis players shake hands after their match

Tennis players shaking hands after their match. This practice, which is a social norm widespread in the world of tennis, helps to establish connection and respect among competitors. Photo (cc) by kance courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Respectful behavior reduces (but doesn't eliminate) the incidence of toxic conflict among members of groups or teams. But since people don't always agree on what respectful means, groups or teams intent on preventing toxic conflict do better when they come to consensus about what respectful behavior is. Typically, this definition is developed as a list of behavioral norms.

Here are four guidelines for developing, propagating, and maintaining behavioral norms.

Establish behavioral norms
Unless we define acceptable behavior, unacceptable behavior is almost inevitable. But posting lists of what's acceptable and what isn't is ineffective. Behavioral norms must be developed by the group members themselves, and adopted by consensus.
Disagreement about behavioral norms is one source of danger from frequent changes in team composition, which are common when people have multiple team assignments. When people haven't been involved in developing the team's behavioral norms, they don't feel ownership of the norms, and that depresses compliance rates.
Include behavioral norms in the onboarding process
When people join the group or team, be certain to include in their orientation a review of the behavioral norms. Devise some form of acceptance mechanism that compels a discussion of any norms the new group members aren't inclined to support.
New group members bring new perspectives. The group must be willing to revisit the previously accepted behavioral norms when new members raise reasonable objections.
Know how to handle violations
Adopting behavioral Adopting behavioral norms is a step
forward, but what happens when one
or more of the norms is violated?
norms is a step forward, but what happens when one or more of the norms is violated? Some norms coincide or overlap with organizational behavioral requirements. When these norms are violated, the procedures of the organization hold sway. That's the easy case.
When group-specific norms are violated, the team or group must act. The team's sponsor can arbitrate, but the team and the offender must negotiate a resolution. Although this process can be complex and difficult, ignoring violations can generate even more difficulties. A pattern of repeated norm violations by a particular group member might constitute a performance issue. If a pattern emerges, seek the assistance of the individual's supervisor.
Understand cultural differences
When work groups include people from multiple cultures, difficulties can arise. Social norms can differ, and what "goes without saying" for people of one culture might need to be explicitly stated for people from another. And what seems acceptable to one might be taboo for another.
Experience with your particular cultural mix is helpful in determining what group norms are needed. Changing the cultural mix might necessitate changing the norms.

One last suggestion. Collaborate with other teams to exchange insights. Exchanging with other teams any experiences, insights, or ideas for norms can accelerate group learning about what norms are most helpful. There's no point in replicating difficulties that other groups have already resolved. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Meta-Debate at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenBCCxypywjEpBSwhpner@ChacpLSXKcDmYdUeqCBtoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
Linda Tripp, a central figure in the impeachment of President ClintonPumpers
In workplace politics, some people always seem to be seeking information about others, but they give very little in return. They're pumpers. What can you do to deal with pumpers?
A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
The Town Hall of Brighton, England, in 2010Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?
Elia Kazan, award winning film directorOn Snitching at Work: I
Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work. Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Srinivasa RamanujanComing August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.
A hot dog with mustard on a bunAnd on August 9: Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog. Available here and by RSS on August 9.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVxwZkMKKBTYsdoPsner@ChacImcaaYBLPewHuSixoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.