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
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!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- New Ideas: Generation
- When groups work together to solve problems, they employ three processes repeatedly: they generate ideas,
they judge those ideas, and they experiment with those ideas. We first examine idea generation.
- Overtalking: I
- Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to
hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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