3 lists for improving your work life

Author Judith Welles offers ideas for how feds can manage their work environment.

Studies have found that managers spend more than one-fourth of their time handling office conflicts. They deal with organizational pressures from above and staff disagreements from below. Clearly, resolving conflicts requires some new approaches.

For example, what if we stopped complaining and started paying more attention to the good stuff going on around us? This is an old approach that is becoming new again in management circles.

Furthermore, what if we had ways to turn a conflict into a positive encounter that results in collaboration?

The following excerpts from my new e-book “Get a Life, Try This!” list some steps managers can take to ease conflict and create a productive environment at work.

4 ways to positive power

Showing and expressing appreciation are related to the notion that we take too much for granted, including the people with whom we work and the agency where we work. Gallup reported that 70 percent of people in the United States say they receive no thanks or recognition at work. And the majority of people who leave jobs say they do so because they don’t feel appreciated.

Sometimes it seems as though we live in a culture of negativity. We seldom acknowledge the things that go right. And obsessing over our challenges and conflicts only adds to a dark, negative cloud.

A study by researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital identified the factors most likely to affect employee commitment and productivity. They found that employees who derive a sense of purpose from their work and feel they can have an impact are more committed to an organization. Certainly, those who work for government have a sense of purpose and the opportunity to reach vast numbers of people with the work they and their agencies do.

The study also found that those who have more say in decisions that affect their work have a higher level of creativity. They have also been employed for a shorter amount of time.

In addition, productivity is largely affected by relationships in the office, including cooperative group moods and interactions.

A previous Harvard study found that successful managers seek opportunities to reward employees, often with something as simple as scheduling monthly team lunches or bringing flowers into the office, which can have an energizing effect.

“The results lead us to conclude that workplaces that provide positive environments that foster interpersonal trust and quality personal relationships create the most committed and productive employees,” said Nancy Etcoff, the lead researcher on the study.

Expressing appreciation is probably the most underrated management tool. Employees are more likely to hear about what went wrong and what could be better than what they are doing right.

Don’t wait for performance-review time to let people know the positive impact they have on the work of an organization. Here are some examples of ways to use the power of appreciation to motivate staff and raise morale, from IDG’s “CIO Insider” newsletter.

1. Talk about the good stuff at the beginning of meetings. Remind everyone that, no matter the difficulties of a project, some progress is always made even if it means simply having a planning meeting. Starting with a positive observation will help set the stage for a productive meeting.

2. Don’t wait till the end of the project to send a “great work” e-mail. Saying thanks or patting someone on the back doesn’t have to wait until everything is finished or done exactly as we want it.

3. Acknowledge people’s successes publicly. Just as there are good days and bad, there are always opportunities to say a kind word. That pat on the back might be especially needed on the bad days.

4. Appreciate yourself and let your boss know about your successes. How often do you hear thanks or something positive where you work? Why not be in the one who spreads good news?

5 ways to have a good fight

Most of us would much rather avoid a fight than deal with conflicts in the office. According to Lynne Eisaguirre, author and workplace expert at CNN Headline News, managers who learn to expect conflict and harness it can improve productivity and innovation. After all, it has been estimated that some 65 percent of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees, not lack of individual skill.

Her point is that conflict at work is inevitable. But if you decide upfront what the rules of engagement will be, you can make the best use of your time in managing conflict, and you can create an organizational environment that productively embraces conflict.

The trick is to turn conflict into a “good” fight. If you can productively address conflict, employees will feel valued and results will soar.

“For IT people who by the nature of their work must be highly task-oriented and very skilled at what they do, managing conflict is essential to working collaboratively with others to get a job done,” Eisaguirre said. “Collaboration requires creatively using conflict.”

Try the following tips for tackling conflict.

1. Set aside time to hash out a conflict productively. Scheduling a time to deal with the problem gives people a chance to cool down and can save time later by easing the intensity of the situation. Besides, nothing is more important than improving conflict skills.

2. Talk about the problem or behavior, not the person or feelings. For example, say, “I heard you say you don’t want me to yell when I give you feedback. Is that correct?” Or “It sounds as if you have a new idea about how to speed up the project.”

3. Look at ways to spin off pieces of the problem. Try to approach the elephant bit by bit, and consider delegating pieces to a subgroup for discussion at another time.

4. Ask what specific action is needed for you to work effectively in the future. Action results from knowing what the specific idea or request is.

5. Thank the employees for bringing the matter to your attention. Even if you did nothing wrong, at least say you are sorry that someone is upset. That approach can help you move from conflict to creativity.

Yes, you can say no — in 3 easy steps

It’s the start of a new fiscal year. You are focusing on your priorities when your boss tells you that one project is needed sooner than planned. You hear yourself saying, “Yes, I’ll get right on it” even though, with other priorities under way, you might not be able to get to it anytime soon.

So why say yes when you really want to say no? People often have a hard time saying no in the workplace. They want to fit in and avoid conflict. They want to keep relationships running smoothly and be part of the team. But in trying to get along, a “yes-er” could actually hurt the team.

Under pressure, people might try to “nice” their way through communication. But saying yes when you’re overloaded can result in a project being neglected or completed poorly even though there might be good reasons to raise it higher on the priority list.

“Many times people feel they can’t stand up to the boss or vice versa,” one federal manager said. “It depends on the environment a manager has created to make sure people feel they will be heard.”

Try these steps for saying no.

1. Employees: Ask questions to clarify what a manager wants, particularly when there are multiple priorities. You often have more power than you realize.

2. Managers: You should also ask questions to make sure you understand what your employees are saying. For instance, you might ask how an employee plans to complete a project when the timeframe has changed.

3. If priorities conflict and problems are likely, managers might also ask what they can do to help an employee succeed.

Read more of the 2011 Federal List.