You Say You’re A Problem Solver?

People that say they can solve problems are worth talking to because employers often want problem-solvers in their organizations. People who can actually prove they’ve solved problems both in the past and the present however will always get selected first. Yep, there’s a big difference between saying you can do something and actually demonstrating your ability.

Not long ago I had the occasion to talk with an employer and he was sharing with me an experience he had with an applicant during a job interview. One of the key qualities he was looking for in the next person he hired was a person’s ability to take on problems and find solutions. What he was listening for a person to share was specific examples of when they’ve faced problems, what their options were, the thought process they undertook at the time and after weighing pros and cons, what they actually settled on as a solution and then the action they took. Sometimes he went on, the result itself didn’t even have to always work out favourably as long as the thought process and the effort was there. Results he said would come most of the time.

In this one interview, he heard this applicant describe a situation at work where they were faced with a problem while working alone. They related in their example what they did when consultation wasn’t possible and things actually worked out very favourably for all involved. It was as he said, an impressive example of their ability to problem solve. So much so in fact, that he was impressed enough to offer the candidate a place. It was at this point however, that the applicant made an error that cost her the job.

She mentioned to the interviewer that she wouldn’t be able to work on the weekends (a written requirement in the job posting) as she didn’t have anyone lined up to look after her child on those two days. This as he related it, was a current and ongoing problem that she hadn’t been able to solve. How, he reasoned, was she going to be able to solve his problems associated with the business if she was unable to solve this critical problem of her own? Presumably being more important to her to solve her own problems, he could only imagine she’d put less effort into solving the organizations as they arose were she to be hired. She didn’t get the job.

Now lest you think she was immediately asked to leave, he told me that he had first asked how long the problem had existed. After all he reasoned, if she had only just learned that her childcare provider was suddenly unavailable, she could have made a case that it was a short-term problem and she’d have a solution quickly. Her answer however surprised him; she’d had this childcare problem for over a year.

This was to him more an example of her inability to solve a critical problem than any example she could present to him from her past work experience. Here was a very real problem that in over a year she had not successfully resolved. What she was hoping for was that he’d hire her to work just Monday to Friday and that some of his existing staff with greater seniority would be scheduled to work the weekend shifts. How likely would you think an employer and the fellow employees would see that as a reasonable accommodation? That’s thinking from a very egocentric place; the world resolves around me and others should meet my needs.

Problems exist; they come and they go only to be replaced by new ones. There’s a lot of good in being faced with problems actually. Be careful if you wish you had no problems to deal with in your life. Problems present opportunities to use your existing skills, coupled with your life and work experiences to devise solutions. Being challenged with situations that require you to think, research, brainstorm, consult and eventually make educated and sound decisions based on what you’ve accumulated is a desirable skill.

Now some people can solve problems that benefit themselves only; or benefit an organization but at the price of the customers they serve. Other organizations are bending over backwards so much to keep their customers happy that they actually destroy themselves in the process, so that’s not a long-term problem-solving strategy for success.

The best solutions to problems typically start with one’s ability to correctly comprehend and diagnose the problem. This is followed by coming up with the possible options available that will resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all. Ideally all parties want to feel that they have a resolution that maintains the relationship moving forward, meets their own needs and everyone can move forward.

If you are heading into an interview fully advised in a job posting that problem-solving is one of the requirements of the position, you should expect to be asked to prove through examples from your past that you’re a problem-solver. Don’t wait until that moment, look dumbfounded and sputter out some poor example or worse yet, tell them you’ve never had a problem you couldn’t solve. That could just show you’ve never been properly challenged and your skills in this area are underdeveloped.

You might typically be asked to relate past problems with customers, co-workers, management etc. Be ready. Be a problem-solver.




The ‘Conflict Resolution’ Interview Question

One question that comes up quite often in interviews has to do with the issue of conflict. More accurately it’s not so much about conflict but rather conflict resolution. Like any question asked of you in an interview, the key is to figure out what’s behind the question and how to direct your answer to the needs of the interviewer who is assessing you and determining your fit with the organization in the position.

So if the interviewer said, “Give me an example of a time you experienced conflict on the job and walk me through the steps you took to resolve the situation”, how would you reply?

I’ve worked with many people over the years and that means I’ve heard a wide variety of responses; some great, some good and some mediocre at best all the way to just plain poor. I’d have to say the worst thing an applicant could do with this question is declare that they’ve never experienced conflict on the job and leave the answer there. No conflict on the job? None at all? No interviewer is going to buy that. Furthermore, even if it were true, you’d be expecting to be rated highly by the interviewer against other applicants by essentially skipping the question with an answer like that. This is just not a good strategy.

THE key place to start when you break down the question is to determine what conflict is. For some, conflict means an outright physical fight. Seeing as 1) physical fights don’t typically break out in the workplace and 2) to share that you have been involved in one with a co-worker, management or a customer would be suicidal, so viewing conflict as a physical altercation might not be the best approach.

Conflict if not a physical confrontation then, has to occur in some other way. It could be where the customer wants one thing and the policy of a store is something different; as in a full refund demanded but an item was purchased as a final sale. Conflict could also be where two employees have very different working styles and frequently work in shared environments. Perhaps receiving conflicting directives from two different Managers leads an employee to experience stress and there is no immediately clear way to satisfy both their expectations. Any of these represent conflict in the workplace.

If you re-read the question above posed by the interviewer, you can break it down into 4 pieces, all of which need to be addressed in your answer.

  1. A specific example of conflict
  2. The example has to be job-related
  3. Steps taken must be illustrated
  4. The example used must be resolved

By breaking down the question into these 4 components, you can better answer the question, and as you mentally check off each item as you address it, your own self-confidence rises. These beats ‘winging it’; where you ramble along and hope that somewhere in your answer you give the interviewer what they are looking for. The problem with this kind of answer is that not only does it seldom answer the question fully; you as the applicant are left wondering if you’ve said enough or too much.

Now before you get to the interview, you should include as part of your preparation a review of the job requirements. If the job posting specifically mentions conflict resolution, being able to prioritize tasks, resolve situations, problem solve etc., you’d be smart to have several examples prepared ahead of time that demonstrate your conflict resolution skills. Keep in mind that the interview is listening for HOW you went about resolving the situation and assessing your answer compared to how they want people to resolve conflict in their workplace. So how you solved problems and dealt with conflict elsewhere is likely how you’ll approach problems and conflict working with them if hired.

Everyone experiences conflict. You should never attempt to sell an interviewer the line that you’ve never experienced conflict of any kind in the workplace. You may unintentionally come across as dishonest, hiding something, not really knowing yourself, or perhaps how you’ve dealt with conflict resulted badly. None of these are what you want to leave the interviewer thinking.

What you do want to leave the interview with is the impression that you deal with conflict proactively and responsibly; resolving conflict before it escalates and does irreparable harm to the organization. Conflict never resolves itself, and if the job you are applying for is one working with other people, then it’s your interpersonal skills that are going to play a big part of your answer. How did you approach that customer or co-worker? Did you listen as well as talk to gain their perspective? Did you exercise patience, empathy and consider your options? Did you actually think of alternatives and resolutions or just quote a policy and keep repeating it over and over, further annoying the client to the point where they are now sharing their terrible experience with not just you but the company as a whole?

Conflict resolution is a skill just like any other. While some take conflict with a customer over a policy very personally, others see the conflict for what it is – a problem with a policy. They don’t ‘own’ the conflict even though they are the person on the receiving end as the company representative.

So, can you come up with an example of conflict resolution?


How Do You React To Trouble? (They Are Watching!)

Whether you want to call it trouble, adversity, problems or challenges, when something pops up that threatens the success of something needing done, employers as represented by Supervisors and Managers will notice the reactions of their employees.

How YOU personally react, and what you DO will define you in one way or another. Beyond that one time, if you consistently react a certain way – good or bad, positive or negative – you’ll have established your reputation. How would you like to be viewed in the face of problems and challenges? Are you the person who waits for others to deal with the trouble, the person who takes action and succeeds more often than not, or are you the reckless responder who throws themselves into every problem with a ton of energy but very little thought for alternative solutions?

Dealing with trouble is such an important issue, that it often comes up in job interviews. You know, that irksome question for some about how you’d deal with conflict or something that threatens production, team chemistry or customer frustrations. Employers would ideally like to know your typical reaction to past problems you’ve encountered in order to predict how you are most likely to react to challenges that will pop up should you be hired by them.

Suppose you’re the kind of person that jumps right in, takes control of situations and tells people what to do in order to get quick results. Is that the best reaction? Well I’d say you are the right person for the job if you happen to be around when a fire breaks out in the office. Barking out statements like, “Call 911! Seal that door, get out and meet in the north parking lot now!”, is probably the best thing everyone who is wondering what to do wants to hear.

However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to consider several possible courses of action prior to cautiously moving forward with a plan, you might just be the ideal employee to handle a delicate challenge with one of the company’s most valued clients. Perhaps gathering input from your peers, the customer, distributors and other stakeholders is what is needed to make a decision that will yield a course of action with the lowest risk and the greatest potential benefit.

Do you see how neither of those two types is right in both situations? If a fire breaks out and it’s spreading rapidly, someone who takes the time to consult with all their fellow employees on a course of action may not survive. Conversely, someone who takes charge and acts consistently without consulting others may come across as brash, impulsive and a loose cannon; high risk/high reward.

Then there’s the person who routinely sits and waits to be told by others what to do. This person may be unwilling to take leadership for fear of failure, and will happily work hard when told what to do, but is reluctant to suggest courses of action. It may be they wish to play things safe, but it could also be that they just lack the vision to foresee additional challenges and implications of choices.

Every employee has strengths and areas in which they could improve. Some positions in companies require people of action and an ability to trouble-shoot potential problems, and deal effectively with challenges when they do occur. Sometimes the trouble is relatively minor, as in the case of the supply cupboard is found to be empty of pens. Whoever notices that is likely to then be expected to notify whomever is responsible for ordering more, and that person does so, or has a backup stash to deal with just such an issue. Then again, there are situations like finding the in-house computer software program isn’t functioning, that can potentially cost the company sales, and drive customers to the competition perhaps never to return. That needs sending an alert to the IT department immediately.

Earlier I mentioned that the conflict or trouble-shooting question could arise in a job interview. So how then should you respond to come across in the best possible light? I’d suggest that instead of automatically telling the interviewer your particular problem-solving style, you preface your answer by stating you first determine the magnitude of the problem, the potential impact of a worse-case scenario, and then proceed with responding. In other words, your problem-solving style adapts and changes as a response to the challenge, rather than having a rigid, one-style-suits-all reaction.

Here’s another thing to consider. As a member of a team in my workplace, I am frequently in situations where leadership is called for to address a challenge. Sometimes it is my decision to actually hold back and allow others the opportunity to step up. This doesn’t mean I’m not capable of addressing an issue that’s facing the team, it just means that I want to give others a chance to excel. Not only is this good for them, but it also helps me understand what my teammates are capable of, and when facing trouble, it’s nice to know who has what skills and whom you can count on. Pretty unrealistic to expect a superior response to major issues if a person hasn’t had a chance to respond to increasingly significant challenges in the past.

You can do yourself a favour if you know the procedures to deal with the most likely troubles that will arise in your own workplace. Check what your boss wants you to notify them of immediately, and what you could tackle on your own.

Conflict At A Crossroads

Recently I was talking to two individuals and the conversations dealt with the issue of the inner conflict one experiences when you stand at a crossroads and have to make a decision about two very different choices and what to do with your life. I thought it might be useful to share with you their stories.

What prompted the first conversation was the allure of a job in western Canada, which would require this man to relocate and he’s essentially paralyzed with indecision. He’s weighed the pros and cons as he knows or guesses them, and I sense is wanting someone else to make his decision for him; namely me.

The second conversation just happened to be with a fellow later in the afternoon of the same day. He was lamenting not having jumped at a chance to take a job much earlier in his life. As it turns out, he grew bitter with his spouse and never forgave her for holding him back and not allowing him to run his own business. The bitterness festered as he hated all the work he did for others, and eventually squabbles turned to arguments, arguments to fights and fights led to a divorce. The entrepreneur opportunity fizzled as investment money dried up and he totally blames his lost riches and dependence on social assistance on the ex-wife. Sad.

Now both as you see illustrate a point in time where each was presented with a choice; and in both situations that choice would profoundly affect the longer term jobs, lifestyles and conditions under which each would live, not to mention potential income earnings. As I listened to each person, I was struck with the remembrance of many situations in my own life where I stood at a crossroads and contemplated pros and cons of varying courses of action. In my own case, I was able to share and explore options with my wife, and now years later looking back, can recall those moments clearly and the decisions made with little regret.

The first man had no such hindrance of other people to consider and had this on his pro list. Alone in this world, part of his problem ironically was that without someone else to get involved with the decision, he knew his success or failure was 100% his decision and I think that gripped him with fear of the choice. How interesting from my side of the table. He said two or three times, “What should I do?” Once changing it significantly to, “What would you do?” I told him I wasn’t going to make it that easy for him.

The second discussion was actually full of sorrow, missed opportunity, and a loving relationship poisoned to the point where to this day, the downturned mouth and facial lines have this man’s face in a constant scowl of discontent and bitterness. He believed that as the head of the family he had the right to take his chance, (which he says was a sure thing) and she should have been behind him. I interjected taking a chance and suggested that was the problem in a nutshell; they should have stood together as equals in that decision, not her behind him. All these years that chip on his shoulder has grown in size and weighed him down, snowballing into greater anger and further employment lost due to an attitude that leaves little room for dealing with in his words, “dumb employers”.

I think it is one of our great gifts as humans to have choices in our lives. Choices present us with opportunities to weigh our options, explore and recognize our own values, and with those choices comes both the excitement and burden of carrying forth the responsibility of choices made. Little choices don’t typically create much anxiety or it passes quickly, as in the case of what to wear to work on a given day. Big choices require more thought, and major life decisions may only come along once during our time on the planet, never to come again under the same circumstances.

When faced with the extremely big choices, sure a list of pros and cons is valuable, as is doing an assessment of ones assets. And by assets I don’t mean only your bank account and possessions. I mean your strengths, experience, attitude, values, beliefs etc. The other thing that’s essential is the next step which is to take courageous action. Many times something desired involves an element of risk, a leap of faith, the courage to struggle when an easier option might be better taken in the view of others and it takes intestinal fortitude and a burning desire for change.

Counterbalancing all of this may be one’s responsibilities, the impact of your decision on others and their willingness or resistance to getting behind your idea. However, it serves little value to look back on that decision and beat yourself up for making it as you did years later. At the time, if you considered all the possibilities it may well have been the right decision at that time and best then to move forward without regret.

Having said this, when a choice impacts on others, as in the case of a family and spouse, its paramount to enter into discussions with respect for your partners views, their dreams, their expectations and hopes; where you stand as equals. It may be your life, but it takes two to make a partnership.

How Do You React When You Hold A Different Opinion?

In our daily lives, whether it’s at work, at home or out socially, we are bound to hold different views on daily events than others around us, and I’d suggest that having different views is very healthy. But when you have a different view than someone else, how you react and what you communicate while at work is important for you to understand; especially the impact of your reaction on others.

Now first of all, it depends what you think different about. So if you are discussing the merits of a certain colour of highlighter for your notes, your preference differing from someone else’s is really not all that big an issue. The ramifications just aren’t that significant and therefore once you say you like yellow because of its brightness instead of blue because it’s harder to see the text, you’re pretty much done. But what if you differing opinion is about something much more meaningful with wider ramifications?

It’s always best to slow yourself down when being in a discussion that is leading to some decision, especially if you see that decision having a direct impact on something you care about. Think objectively about the choices you have, consider whether the topic is one you feel is something that you really have to fight for, and see if there is some merit in the views of others before taking an all or nothing position.

Sometimes what happens is that we hold a view of our co-workers and we might see them as idealistic, cowardly, aggressive, lax, emotional, practical etc. This may be based largely on past performance and discussions we’ve had, or having seen them make past decisions that did or didn’t work out. Or on the other hand, we may base our views on feelings, intuition, first impressions etc. which are less reliable. So when at a meeting where some discussion is taking place, it’s vital to separate our personal views of the person from the ideas and opinions that person is expressing. Failing to do this can result in not even listening to the person, but rather jumping to the defense of our own views prematurely.

When you listen to others, not only might you realize that despite past performance, this time somebody actually has a view that has validity, you might save yourself from interrupting the other person and making yourself look poor by shutting the other person down. The result of such behaviour is that someone else’s idea gets more attention, the other person gets sympathy, and you brand yourself as someone who is quick to speak and could benefit from actually taking a moment to think about what has just been said.

When you differ in opinion, it’s always a good idea to vocalize your difference with the opinion but base your rebuttal on facts, experience and quickly move to talking more about the merits in another course of action rather than dwelling too long on the pitfalls of someone elses point of view. Those that play smart in the sandbox also will support the person perhaps in some other idea or point of view that is less divisive from their own view or one in fact they agree entirely with.

Differing views often help groups come to more meaningful conversation. They allow groups the benefit of then having to examine differing views, find merit in each, and then come to a consensus at some point, which is often a merger or combination of two or more viewpoints. The best decisions coming out of groups are often in fact, ones that several people have some input into in order to get group buy-in. Then when the time to talk is over and the time to act begins, more people are on board. The worst thing you could possibly do is strongly voice your differing opinion, refuse to let go of your position, and then go out of your way to sabotage the action plan the group has come up with. This brands you as someone who can’t be a part of any plan that isn’t their own.

The most interesting thing sometimes happens thereafter where what you failed to see in a meeting, when later put into action, becomes something that you then understand, and you realize your opinion while still valid, might have if adopted by the group, led to a less than satisfactory conclusion. In other words, if many others are behind someone else’s ideas and you aren’t, might they see something in it that you yourself fail to see?

We all should be encouraged in my opinion to hold our own views and express them without fear of being shut down and silenced. However, this is largely affected by the situation in which we find ourselves and the subject over which we are together. If a fire alarm goes off at work, it would hardly be proper to gauge everyone’s opinion and discuss whether to evacuate or not. Somethings we just do because that’s the agreed upon procedure and while we might personally think going outside is a waste of time and inconvenient in the rain or cold weather, we do it nonetheless because the consequences of being wrong even once are extreme.

Again, when you differ in opinion from others, back up your view with as much information based on facts and experience. Separate your views of the person you differ with the person themself. And by all means, every now and then give in graciously on some things in order to get a little on things that matter more to you.

I Share A Weakness

Today I write a column that shares one of my own problems and exposes me for someone giving advice to other that I’m not taking myself. Why do that? Well, we can all learn from each other, and I’m just as vulnerable and human as anyone else, so maybe you’ve got some words of encouragement that I can draw from!

As a little background, I work on a team of Workshop Facilitator’s who deliver training programs for clients receiving Social Assistance; money from taxpayers to pay rent and food while they try to turn things around and find jobs and regain their financial independence. Collectively we also run an Employment Resource Centre where these same people can drop by, use a computer, telephone, fax and photocopy machine and resource information. While most staff on the team do a variety of Workshops, others tend to specialize in doing just one or two, and from time-to-time pitch in with others.

Recently I found myself scheduled to work in our Resource Centre, and the schedule didn’t call for any other person to join me that day. When this happens, typically other members of the team relieve for a morning and afternoon break and the lunch period. Being all adults, I love the fact that we can just work things out on our own without every moment of our day being scripted which also takes the pressure off our Supervisor to actually plan out all our break and lunch coverage. However, on this one day, I found it difficult to get anyone to willing provide any help covering off morning break, lunch or afternoon break.

Seems two staff in one workshop didn’t feel like helping out because it was their last day with a group and they really wanted closure. Other staff working alone obviously couldn’t leave their groups to relieve me – and that makes perfect sense. Two other staff felt like they shouldn’t be pulled away from their workshop because one was learning from the other, and they felt that because they had helped cover someone the day before, it was someone else’s turn. Seemed like I was now in a position of begging my co-workers just to get my regular break and lunch coverage according to a teammate.

So I announced to four or five of them assembled not to worry, I’d just not leave the room all day. And there’s my weakness. I’m entitled to a break and lunch like anyone else. Why did I turn into a seven-year old? Truthfully I was so disappointed because our team is one that I pride myself on being part of in part because we work well together for the most part. In the end I did email a teammate and let it be known that because there were two of them facilitating one class, I would be expecting coverage for my afternoon break and lunch from one of them, and felt compelled to add in my email, “I’ve done the same for you.” Why though did I need to call them out?” The return email I got said, “No problem.” So if it’s no problem, just say so the first time instead of me involving the entire team and wasting time. Maybe they realized their original denial of help wasn’t the right thing to have done. Who knows?

I’m not a fan of confrontation, and here I felt I was drawing a line in the sand. I was disappointed I was writing an email and TELLING a co-worker to cover me. I’m not the Boss after all, and don’t want to tell anyone what they are doing unless that becomes part of my responsibilities. This was hard only because we generally look at a schedule, anticipate coverage needs and actually extend voluntary offers of help. So perhaps people were only thinking of themselves, maybe they had outside things going on that left them less able to extend themselves, or were just cranky.

So where I might counsel someone else to sit down one-on-one with a certain individual and discuss how their actions made them feel, I wimped out. I haven’t shared how let down I felt and asked if there’s something else going on or not. Of course I’m trying not to make a big deal out of this too, but I noticed a week later, the same person let down another member of the team by actually saying they didn’t feel like doing either of the two things they had choices to do that day, and would really rather stay in their office. That’s not teamwork in action, that’s mework in action. (Yes that’s a typo but you get the point even if Spellcheck doesn’t).

So while we, as the so-called experts in our fields are great on giving advice on how to deal with conflict in the workplace, we don’t always follow that advice when it comes to ourselves. That doesn’t make us anything but human, and we can all grow from time-to-time and practice what we preach.

At The Interview: Answering The Conflict Question

Just yesterday, I was conducting mock interviews with a group of people who are intensively looking for employment. In one of those interviews, I said, “Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict and what did you do to resolve it”.  The answer I got, and the interpretation of the question came as a surprise to me, and I found myself with an opportunity for one of those teachable moments, and that’s why I want to share this with you today.

First of all, I’ll tell you the person responded with this statement. “I have never experienced conflict”. Now in the past, I’ve always drawn from this response the impression that the person may a) be lying  b) not know themself that well or possibly c) drawn a blank where they cannot think of any conflict to describe. Now this struck me as peculiar too because the individual before me makes a good visual first impression, has a solid work history, and I believe would have at some point experienced situations involving conflict. So I probed, and asked her to think of any situation in a past job or her personal life where she had experienced conflict and share how she resolved it. She started to say that her personal life shouldn’t have any bearing on the job interview but then caught herself and stopped. Again she stated she had no conflict in her personal or professional life.

At the end of the interview, we re-visited her answers and I gave her feedback on the positive and areas to improve. With respect to this question, here’s how she viewed it. In her opinion, talking about conflict – any conflict – she had with another person where an argument ensued would give the interviewer a reason to pass her over, so she didn’t want to reveal anything, and thought her answer was satisfactory. She also couldn’t understand why a conflict with someone in her personal life would be appropriate to talk about in a job interview either.

The reason for the question is important for the applicant to understand in order to answer it correctly. The interviewer knows that any potential applicant once hired, will be spending up to 7 or 8 hours a day with other employees and customers etc. and therefore potential conflicts may arise from time to time. By sharing HOW you resolve conflict when it does arise, the interviewer gets an idea of how you will act working for their company if and when this happens.  The other point I’d make here myself is that even if you don’t like a question you’ve been asked, it’s still been asked and you have to respond in some way.

I reversed the situation and asked her to pose the question to me. What I responded with is this. “Sure, a time I experienced conflict was recently when I took my car in for service. As I start at 8:00a.m., I arrived at the dealership at 7:30a.m. and had arranged for an early ride to work so I’d arrive on time. The driver was late however, and the conflict I was experiencing was knowing I might now be late. So the action I took was to call the office, explain the problem and indicate I’d be there shortly. I also spoke with the Service Advisor, and fortunately he got another person to shuttle me to work. As a result of explaining my problem, I got the ride and arrived at work right at 8:00a.m. I know reporting procedures if faced with arriving late, and I’m confident in saying that my attendance record is excellent and something I’m constantly being  cited for. I believe I have the skills to resolve any conflict I may be experiencing to achieve a win-win situation.”

In this example, the conflict isn’t so much an argument with a person but rather a conflict in needing to be somewhere and being delayed in arriving on time. It’s important to paint a scenario for the interviewer so they can visualize the problem, see how you respond to the situation, and then finish by sharing the result. A positive outcome is always best. After doing this, the person I was sitting with understood much better that answering the question this way allowed her to answer the question from another perspective…and isn’t gaining perspective something to be valued!

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Is Your Boss THE Problem?

In a perfect world of work, you’d go to work everyday and get along with everyone. You’d have a good relationship with your peers, your customers and clients, and you’d get along with your boss too. Most of us are fortunate enough I would hope to say that we have a good working relationship with the person who is above us on the organizational chart. However, what if that’s not the case?

The role a Supervisor plays and how they go about carrying out their responsibilities is dictated primarily by two major factors; first the individuals personality and preferred style of leadership, and secondly, direction from their Supervisors. So let’s break this down and see if there is something tangible that can help you if you find yourself in a poor Employee/Supervisor relationship.

Let’s look at the personality of the boss first. Okay so just like you are a product of all your past experiences, so too is your boss a product of all the life experience they’ve had up to this point. All you know of course is what you have to deal with on a daily basis since you two came into each other’s lives, but there’s a lot you don’t know about that person. Perhaps they had to fight and claw to justify their rise to the top and they weren’t taken seriously in past years. So instead of being a nice easy-going person, they felt the need to transform themself into an aggressive, goal-directed person who doesn’t take kindly to anything that distracts them from achieving their goals. If that style worked in the past, they may be continuing to find it effective today. Who knows?

Secondly, the culture of the organization may actually have a great deal to do with the kind of people that are attracted to, and selected for leadership roles. If shareholders and stakeholders are happy with bottom-line results, they may not care all that much about how they are achieved. It’s kind of like being sad when you see roadkill on the highway one morning but you don’t think about it on the way home when it’s gone.

So when you find yourself in a situation where you answer to a boss who rubs you the wrong way, don’t think you can just ignore the situation. If you try this strategy, you’ll find yourself not looking forward to going to work, increased stress, headaches, physical illness, loss of self-esteem associated with self-doubt, and general unhappiness. Ouch.

For starters, it’s best to first look at other Supervisors. Do all the Supervisors’ have the same style? Is it something corporate or is it an individual style? If it’s corporate, and all the Managers have the same approach, and all the employees feel as you do, start on your exit strategy. Update the resume, look for jobs, go to interviews, leave on the best terms possible, and reclaim your happiness. On the other hand, if you find that you only have an issue with your Supervisor, try and look at things objectively first before doing anything. This is hard, but how much are you responsible for the relationship breakdown? It’s not ever 100% one persons’ problem. Not ever.

So assess your part of the problem and see if there’s anything first you can do to make the first move to patching up a problem and moving the relationship in a positive direction. Next, describe the problem in writing, citing examples that support your point of view and alternatives that you would have preferred to improve the situation. This is a list you’ll never share with anyone, but it organizes your thoughts, forces you to articulate your issues, and is even somewhat helpful in a therapeutic way. Now the big step. Ask for a private meeting with your Supervisor and give that person a heads up so you can both set aside the time necessary and they don’t feel ambushed. Ask for the meeting in a non-confrontational way, something like, “I’d like to sit down with you in the next few days and discuss our working relationship and ways to improve it.”

It’s best to have a meeting like this sooner rather than later, as neither person really wants to stew and build up a number of scenarios in their mind about how bad things are going to go. Keep in mind too that if you have the meeting right then and there, you might have given some thought to the problem, but your boss might be just totally defensive and revert to a strategy of attack to best defend. Not going to be very helpful.

If you arrange a meeting, start off by thanking the Supervisor for agreeing to the meeting, and tell them how much you appreciate the opportunity to discuss your working relationship. Speak respectfully and with sincerity. Try and keep the discussion centered on how you feel about their actions rather than the person themself. So for example, “I know you’re responsible for our department numbers, so when you need to speak to me about a problem, I’d prefer it to be done in private, rather than in front of my co-workers.” In this strategy, you acknowledge their authority, you validate their need to correct a problem, you’re just asking for the methodology to change. In other words, not the, “What” or “Why”, just the “How” and “When”.

Of course not every discussion will result in an improved relationship. If you find things are not changed, or you’re told there will be no meeting, you have to take other steps. These could include putting your concerns in writing, speaking with their Manager, asking for a transfer, or looking for work elsewhere. These are serious steps to take, but your long-term happiness and satisfaction are at stake. Ask yourself how long you want to stay with your current employer? Is the boss here to stay or are they perhaps near retirement? Why are you motivated to work where you do anyhow – a pay cheque or the work itself? Could you financially leave and look for work elsewhere?

Dialogue is usually the best step to take because it allows both people to air their concerns. In larger companies, you might even be fortunate enough to have an Employee Assistance Program that will help you dela with your feelings through free counselling. You may also have a Union to help you with these problems by providing mediation, or a third party present during the meeting to support you.

No mistake about it though, dealing with a poor Employee/Supervisor relationship is a tough one. Once you start the process of addressing it, you never know how it might end up. Here’s hoping you resolve your differences and can start fresh by taking each others needs and styles into account. Remember it’s not you vs. them, it’s more the two of you needing to work productively together with professional respect to achieve company goals.

Describe Your Conflict Resolution Style?

Let’s have a look at this question you might be asked in a job interview and the reason behind it. I mean, what is the employer REALLY asking here and why?

First of all, you should do some research on the subject of conflict resolution if you didn’t even know there are different conflict resolution styles in the first place. That aside, there are a number of people who have made their reputation on resolving conflict in a very one-dimensional way. These folks are recruited by some organizations to put out fires in organizations, usually brought in for a very short-term with a clear mandate. Organizations do not keep these people on permanently because it is recognized that their style is not meet the long-term needs of the company.

Then there are the majority of people, yourself likely included, who recognize that in your daily work, you use a variety of conflict resolution styles to address problems and use your best judgement to determine which is the most appropriate given the situation. To illustrate this, let’s say your thinking that the best answer to the question is to say you like to look at conflict from different points of view, consult with others to get their input, and seek win – win situations by implementing a resolution that is well thought out and planned. Good answer – sometimes but not every time. Should a fire break out, you need somebody to take control, issue commands and hustle people to safety. There’s no time to consult with others, ask everyone what their point of view is etc. GET OUT NOW!

Interviewers might be asking this question because the nature of the workplace and the proximity of the workers in it often creates conflict, and the employer wants to ensure that the productivity doesn’t drop and that people despite their differences, can still work effectively together. The employer knows one key thing you don’t; the employer knows those you may be working with, and is looking for someone to ‘fit’ in with those workers so that the chemistry is conducive to working well together.

How well your interpersonal skills are developed, or conversely how green you are in this area, will impact on your skills in conflict resolution, as will the number of individuals you will be working with in a position. Obviously if you are going to be working largely in an isolated area with very little people contact, the chances of engaging in conflict with others is reduced. Work in a situation where you will engage all day long with customers, co-workers and clients, and the likelihood of conflict arising increases.

By the way, when you get around to answering this question in an interview, don’t tell an employer what you WOULD do in any given situation, tell them what you HAVE done in past situations. After all, how you have acted in the past will likely be how you are going to react in the future. Use a situation from your past where you resolved conflict with a co-worker or Supervisor, and how that situation was resolved with a positive result. That’s the bottom line of this answer – it has to end positively with strengthened relationships, maintained or increased productivity, so that the bottom line is achieved.

I once heard a person answer this question by stating how they just asked the person they were having conflict with to step outside and proceeded to punch him in the face. As the sentence ended, the same person smiled as if  the answer they gave was awesome. Sure the situation was resolved quickly – but at what cost? Physical violence is not in vogue. Lawsuits, shut downs, lost productivity, distracted workers, investigations – who needs all that today?

Show your skills in this answer and back them up with an example or two which paint you favourably. Everyone has conflict from time to time – saying you never have conflict with anyone is unrealistic and will show the employer you either aren’t being honest, you don’t know yourself well, or you’re hiding something.