I. Concepts Underlying Conflict Management (Pushback)
In a perfect world, you implement a workers’ comp management program and there is no pushback. Everyone in your perfect world is as excited as you are about the program because workers’ comp management strategies and processes work.
BUT in the real world it isn’t a question if you’re going to have pushback, it’s a question when pushback comes and how you’re going to deal with it. Pushback is inevitable.
The Push and Pull of Pushback
Pushback is defined as opposition or resistance to an idea, plan or strategy. You can plan on being on the receiving end of push back at one time or another in your career from management, peers, and subordinates.
Pushback I s also defined as the act of forcing the enemy to withdraw – to cause to move back by force or influence. This sounds pretty scary, but this is pushback from the giving end.
Pushback boils down to conflict. Conflict is pain; people feel threatened. Regardless of whether the threat is real or perceived, pain is often expressed in pushback. Perhaps the cause is professional jealousy. Perhaps it is change. There are a variety of reasons for pushback but it always comes back to some psychic pain the individual is feeling and manifests as fighting back, stonewalling, or resorting to back biting and backstabbing.
Can We Manage Pushback?
To manage pushback we must first understand it as it occurs in various levels of management relative to our own. We must develop different conflict management strategies for dealing with superiors, peers and subordinates.
1. Superiors – It’s About the Bottom Line
Management isn’t interested in the details of a workers’ comp management program. Management is interested in cost and cost savings. Create a brief presentation to show them how they’re losing money now and how they can save actual dollars and cents with the new program initiative. When you talk to their bottom line, chances are, management will be delighted to come on board.
Manage conflict from employees by creating positive incentives such as gift certificates to the company store for successful participation in the new program’s initiatives. Practicing active conflict management techniques helps to bring employees on board. (See 7 Common Management Themes)
Managing pushback from peers is the most difficult because power is equal. Backing from senior management helps manage give you the edge you need to implement a corporate wide workers’ comp management program.
II. Managing Conflict From a Procedural Level
7 Common Management Themes
Several important common conflict management themes emerge at every level because you want everyone in the company to own workers’ management program goals, to participate willingly and not sabotage your workers’ comp management program.
1. Consensus Building
Your ultimate goal is to find those areas you agree on and agree to compromise on the areas you don’t. This can be a slow, arduous process. But it can be worth it because people have buy-in to the new program, and they feel invested. They have internalized program initiatives and taken ownership. So building consensus among individuals is a powerful tool for moving the group ahead.
2. Careful Listening
When practicing active conflict management — such as when someone is in your face, what do you do? Listen carefully, then repeat back to the individual what they said. In this way, when the individual hears you voicing his own words, he feels heard. This is a powerful technique for calming angry individuals.
Them: “I just don’t feel I can handle another program initiative with my current workload. I am overburdened as it is.”
You: “Okay. So you’re telling me you feel overburdened and cannot handle another program initiative. Is that right?”
Them: “Yes, we’re already running safety initiatives, and these are getting in the way of production numbers. If we were just left alone to do our work we would meet quota!”
You: “Okay, help me to understand. You are attempting to participate in safety initiatives but find you are running under production quotas, is this right?”
Them: Yes, that’s right.”
You: “Well, I hear you, and I’m going to write down your concerns, is this okay? Let’s follow up with representatives from your group, perhaps a short series of meetings will help bring us all come up to speed and put us on the same page. You’ll be getting an invite from me later this week and we can pursue your concerns.”
Them: “Okay, I’ll wait for your email.”
You: “You can expect an email later this week, and I’ll matrix the concerns. At the first meeting, we can begin to discuss solutions.”
When they share their concerns, tell them what you can and cannot do up front. Tell them, you can share their concerns, you can plot their concerns on a matrix and help organize them into immediate, short/long term goals, and tell they what things you have no control over.
Make sure you speak in a neutral tone and maintain a serious expression of concern and respect. People must perceive they have been heard. By listening and neutrally repeating what an irate individual said, you have moved them from an angry stance to a more open, “well, what are we going to do about it” stance.
3. Always Show Respect
Resist the temptation to patronize or belittle the opinions of others — even privately. As much as you may disparage or even dislike someone, you must always show respect especially for peers and people with less power than you. Human beings have an innate capability for sensing when they are being talked down to and patronizing them will alienate them forever. You will never gain consensus, and your program will struggle if you do not listen whole-heartedly and respond to the concerns of your fellow employees.
This doesn’t mean taking abuse. This means listening carefully, repeating what is said, noting it, allaying concerns. If an employee turns abusive, gently redirect that person onto the topic, or disengage yourself by saying, “Perhaps we can talk about this another time.”
4. Be a Person of Your Word
This goes a long way to ensure credibility, and sometimes credibility is all you’ve got. If you promise something by a certain time, deliver it. If you cannot perform some task, admit it up front. Always be honest but diplomatic.
5. Be constructive
If you can’t think of anything good to say, say something constructive anyway. If you are called on to critique another’s work or contribution, build on what they have created, do not tear it down. Find something positive to say. Couch your opinions as questions, as if you were asking their advice, after all, it is their work or contribution. They are sure to have opinions about it. This is all about consensus building and investing ownership.
6. Think in Terms of Possibilities and Solutions
Even if something is obviously inferior in quality, turn it into an opportunity for growth.
7. Be a Positive Thinker
Do not allow negativity to enter into your thinking or you will be unable to solve conflicts effectively. Believe the outcome will benefit everyone.
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker about workers’ comp issues.
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