Chapter 9 - Managing relationships

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Understanding values conflict

Of the three types of conflict (task, process and relational), relational is the most consistently negative in impact. What we glibly describe as a personality clash may more accurately be described as a clash of perceived values. Understanding the values that underlie someone else’s behaviour can quickly lead to a more positive appreciation of their motives and intentions. The coach can ask the client to:

  • List your values – what’s important to you (about work; about family or whatever).
  • List the other person’s values.
  • Draw them as a dimension from high to low importance. Where do you place yourself on each dimension? Where do you think they are?
  • Where are you both most clearly aligned and/or misaligned?
  • What’s the impact of the gap on how each of you thinks and behaves? What’s the impact of how the two of you behave on other people?
  • Where would it be beneficial to close some of the gaps? In what ways would it be beneficial to each of you and to other stakeholders?
  • Where would it be useful simply to value the difference?
  • What strategies could you now adopt to bring about a positive shift in the relationship?

Building relationships

Many people find it hard to develop the quality of relationship they need with colleagues at work. Research by the Heartmath Institute suggests that spending time each day thinking about each key colleague from four perspectives can be highly beneficial.

The first perspective is care: What can they do or say to each person to show that they care? What will give them hope, comfort or inspiration?

The second is compassion: Expressing empathy with their current concerns and difficulties. Heartmath explain that this ‘not only lifts them up, it also triggers responses within our bodies known to enhance our decision-making abilities and personal resilience’.

The third is appreciation: Similarly, expressing appreciation benefits both the giver and receiver.

The fourth is authentic communication: Being open and honest about what you feel and believe, while at the same time slowing down and making a sincere effort to listen. This raises awareness of other people’s feelings and helps them to understand you better, as well.

  • Think about each of your colleagues under these four headings.
  • Plan how you will transfer that thinking first into a daily routine of thinking about others, and second into practical conversations with colleagues.

Four stages of fault-free conflict management

This is a process where the coach may take more of a facilitation role, working with the client and the person(s) they are in conflict with. It is particularly useful where there is habitual blame, or where the two people have lost trust in each other to the extent that they need some form of mediation. A key outcome of the exercise should be that the coachee (or both parties) have an enhanced capability of having this kind of conversation without the intervention of the coach. The four stages are:

  • Reconfirm the positive. The coach helps the coachee to articulate areas of agreement, using questions such as:
    • What do you violently agree upon?
    • Are you prepared to accept that each of you is acting with goodwill?
    • Are we looking for broadly the same outcome?
    • What do you respect the other party for?
  • Highlight to the coachee not to be negative or accusatory.
  • Fault-free task analysis: Still maintaining the rule of no blame, the coach encourages the coachee to explain what they are trying to achieve and why; what’s preventing them from achieving it (but not assigning blame to anyone else); the implications for key stakeholders and for achieving the team goals. The coachee should repeat this process from others’ perspectives.
  • Fault-free emotional analysis: Up until now, the intention has been to maintain the dialogue at a rational level. But conflict is as much and more about emotion. The coach now encourages the coachee to talk about how they feel (generally and at the moment) and how they would like to feel. What would enable them to change how they felt? In this way, the emotional content of the conflict is released, yet bounded by the continued avoidance of blame.
  • Solution generation: What can both parties do together to take ownership of the issue and generate positive ways forward?