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How To Push Through Conflict Fatigue

Okay. You did it. You went there. It's done... Wait... You're telling me it's NOT done?

I know. Sorry! Bad news:

Once you've had THAT difficult conversation, your work has only just begun.

Of course, if you're happy to have a massive confrontation where everyone loses or to lead a 'meh' team instead of a high performing team, then a difficult conversation is enough.

But if you want to achieve excellence in how you deal with difficult employees and take your team to new levels of high performance, you'll have to push through the conflict fatigue.

Here are some tips to help you push through conflict fatigue after a difficult conversation so you can see that difficult employee step up or step out within four weeks:

1. Be Consistent About What Is And Isn't Acceptable

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it...), people will pay way more attention to what you do than to what you say. Once you've had a difficult conversation, check yourself. Are you modelling the way? Be consistent in how you deal with all staff. Be consistent with expectations and consequences even when it's hard.

2. Do Not Ignore Negativity

When dealing with difficult employees, it is important to pay attention to negative behavior. Do not give in to conflict fatigue! Try to figure out why they are acting that way and how you can help them. And if you need to, have another difficult conversation. But a little one. And then another one. Multiple small battles is usually better than big one-off battles.

3. Be Timely And Deal With Issues As They Arise

This follows on from not ignoring negativity. Address issues quickly when they do come up so they don't get worse. This means taking the time to figure out why something might be happening and how you can help right away, instead of waiting until it gets worse. Rip that bandaid off now. Don't let the wound fester.

4. Help Them Rebuild Their Reputation

Help the employee to make a good impression again. Give them clear advice and feedback, be supportive of their team members, and help them to follow the same rules as everyone else. Encourage them to take on challenging tasks and give positive reinforcement when they do well.

5. Coach Your Difficult Employees

Coaching can help you deal with difficult employees. After the difficult conversation, coaching becomes more powerful than ever. Use active listening to help your people have their own revelations. Avoid talking or telling too much.

6. Conduct Regular Performance Reviews

Call me naive but I think annual or quarterly performance reviews are dangerous. That's just too long for things to build up. Instead, ask yourself, "How can I help them understand how they're going regularly?"

7. Work Together Towards A Solution

Work together to find a solution that works for everyone. Try to understand each other's points of view and come up with something that works well for everyone.

8. Inform In Writing If Displinary Or Any Other Action Is Justified

If you need to take action against someone, let them know in writing. This is so they understand why you made the decision and what they should do differently in the future. Here's your litmus test: when you inform someone in writing, they should have 0% surprise. If you can achieve this you will minimize negative outcomes.

9. The Employee Should Be Given Time To Improve

When an employee does something wrong, it's important to give them time to change and do better. Don't rush into making a decision before giving them a chance to show improvement. Be clear, go in early and give them time and space to make changes.

10. Set Consequences If Things Do Not Change

If things don't improve, it is important to set clear rules about what will happen. For example, if someone keeps breaking the rules they could lose their job or get other punishments. This sounds obvious but so many leaders lead with ambiguity. Your people should know what the expectations are, what the consequences are of positive and poor behaviours and how they're going, right now.

11. Suggest Improvements

Once again, push through that conflict fatigue. Suggesting improvements is a good way to help fix difficult situations. It means thinking of ideas that could make things better. Listen to people's feedback, stay calm and professional, and set expectations clearly so everyone knows what to do.

12. Motivate, Don't Just Pick Negative Battles

There is a time for picking small battles. Difficult employees need the accountability to sink in. However, as a general rule of thumb in your leadership, 5:1 is a good ratio of positive to negative feedback. As the employee improves, aim for this ratio.

13. Separate The Toxic Person From Other Team Members

We are social beings. There's no getting around it. Some of you are in bureaucratic environments where you need to work with challenging HR regulations. Environment is massive. If someone is toxic but your options are limited or require long runway, do what you can with physical environment to reduce the impact of a toxic person after a difficult conversation.

14. Aim For A 5:1 Ratio Of Positive To Negative Feedback

I just mentioned this above but it deserves its own point. When giving feedback, it is important to be positive. Try to say five positive things for every one negative thing. That way, people can stay motivated and do their best work. This doesn't include the four weeks you'll be picking small battles for accountability after an expectations conversation though.

Want to learn how to deal well with difficult people so they step up or step out within four weeks? Discover the whole system (that REALLY works) in my book Step Up or Step Out.

15. Schedule A Follow-Up Meeting

Schedule a meeting with the employee after the conversation. This will help to make sure that your message is understood and followed. Too often, our conflict fatigue means we sigh when we see more poor behaviour. Getting together again a few days or within a fortnight after a difficult conversation gives you a chance to check in on how they're going and to repeat yourself and remind them of anything that clearly didn't sink in.

16. Critique Behavior, Not People

When giving feedback in small battles after the difficult conversation, talk about the behavior and not the person. Do not criticize people, but instead help them understand what went wrong and how to do better next time. Show respect for everyone.

17. Reject The Difficult Employee’s Behavior

One of my favourite lines for leadership is 'Direct, but polite'. Use this mantra in your small battles. Yes, critique the behaviour not the person but make sure it's clear the behaviour is not acceptable. I can't stress this enough, the clearer and earlier you can jump in and give feedback, the less likely you'll end up in a massive battle where everything blows up and everyone loses.

18. Record Negative Behavior

Record any bad behavior from employees. Write down the details of what happened, when it happened, and why it was wrong. You may never need this. People don't even need to know you're writing this down, but if things unfortunately move in a negative direction these notes become helpful.

19. Reinforce excellence and demand accountability.

Patrick Lencioni talks about being a 'CRO' - Chief Reminding Officer. After the difficult conversation, you now have a foundation. Reinforce that foundation to build excellence and start demanding accountability. Now is not the time to go easy because you don't want to ruffle any feathers. Great leaders are willing to ruffle feathers.

20. Reassign Projects To Remove The Disruptive Worker From Teams

If someone is not following the rules or doing their job correctly, reassign their projects to another worker. This takes them out of teams and helps make sure the work gets done properly. Depending on your context, this may require its own levels of process to get to this point. However, there's no point subjecting your best people to working with a difficult employee if it's negatively impacting the project. Make changes, cop the criticism and let them know if the behaviour improves then you'll happily consider putting them back on projects.

21. Don’t Bring Up The Issue With Other Team Members

It's important not to talk to other people about an issue with an employee. Keep the problem between you and them, and don't bring in others who are not involved. The exception to this rule is where you have a team setting. And once your team is high performing, even these difficult staff situations can be handled within the team. That's. why believe team makes everything easier. Generally though, prioritize confidentiality.

22. Don’t Fire The Employee Right Away

When dealing with a difficult employee, do not fire them right away. Take some time to talk to them and understand their situation before making any decisions. Try to help motivate them and offer support. Assume the best about them. Make sure you engage HR or similar. to be thorough. Firing someone should be a last resort and come after a thorough process. However, this doesn't mean it never happens or can't happen relatively quickly if a process is followed well. Early is always better with dealing with these things.

23. Don’t Get Distracted

After the difficult conversation, your conflict fatigue sets in and there's nothing more you want to do than sweep things under the carpet and focus on nice things. You're a leader. You can't do that. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror and turn up today, tomorrow and the next day ready to pick small battles.

24. Open to Feedback

Be open to hearing what others think about your work and listen to their advice. Ask questions and consider their opinions when making decisions. This will help you learn and grow.

25. Make the employee part of the solution

Involve your employees in finding a solution. Ask them questions and really listen to their answers. Work together to come up with the best solution possible. Even when you're picking small battles, have an open hand, heart and mind.

26. Don’t Let The Behaviour Stop You or Your Team From Doing Your Work

Don't let someone's bad behavior stop you or your team from doing your work. Talk to them and try to understand why they are behaving this way, then take action to fix the issue. Listen to what they have to say and don't ignore the problem. Your best team members are watching and waiting to see what you'll do. If you fail to deal with this then expect your best people to eventually leave and find a leader who is willing to deal with these types of challenges.

27. Keep A Positive Perspective

Keep a positive attitude. Try to see things in a good way and focus on the good things in life. Be kind and stay hopeful about the future, even when it seems hard.

28. Help Them Realize Their Moods Affect Others.

When you're picking small battles, remember some people aren't aware of how their actions affect other people. Help your employees understand that when they are in a bad mood, it can make others feel bad too. Talk to them about it and encourage them to be aware of how their moods can impact those around them.

29. Follow Progress

People are desperate to know how they're doing. Are they measuring up or not? Keep track of the progress of your work and your people's behaviours and keep them in the loop. Even if you have bad news or a difficult conversation, people would rather know where they're at. Just do it without surprises and keep the feedback consistent.

30. Follow through

Follow through means to keep going and do what you said you would do. Keep your promises and finish the job. Make sure everything is done correctly and on time. Whatever you said you'd do in that difficult conversation to hold them accountable, make sure you do that as a bare minimum.

Now that you've had the difficult conversation AND pushed through the conflict fatigue, you're hopefully weeks or months down the track.

After a challenging few weeks of difficult conversations and picking small battles, it's my hope that you'll find the sailing a lot smoother moving forward.

Are you dealing with a difficult employee, right now?

Discover the system for dealing well with difficult employees that REALLY works!

95% of the time you can see that difficult person step up or step out within four weeks.

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You can get my book here.

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