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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- Dismissive Gestures: II
- In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've
developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They
hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog
of dismissive gestures.
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- Handling Heat: II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's
participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
- First Aid for Wounded Conversations
- Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to
forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.