Bombers, Snipers

When project first gets under way,
managing the people side is pretty easy. Everyone’s professional and they try hard to get along. They know how to restrain their quirks and tempers.
But the longer project draws on, the more likely it is that cracks in relationships will start to appear. Stressful deadlines and long hours take their toll and before long, that ugly c-word – ?conflict’ – rears its head.

Dr Yvonne Eve Walus is team leader of IT projects.
Everyone reacts differently when threatened or under pressure. So what are the kinds of creatures that emerge from conflict, and how can you deal with them?

Their tone is arrogant, their voice loud. Bombers can reduce fellow team members to tears. Because this kind of behaviour isn’t usual in professional environment, it works because it stuns everyone.
? Lashing back isn’t the answer. Losing your temper robs you of the ability to deal coolly with the situation and just fuels the aggressor.
? Instead, give them time to lose momentum. Don’t let them squash you though. Stand up and look them in the eye.
? Avoid head-on fight. When you confront them, speak from your own point of view: “I disagree with you” or “In my opinion”.
? Be ready to be friendly and to accept their apology (often unspoken). Bombers have good ideas worth implementing – sometimes they just have trouble getting their point across.

These people appear friendly and never crash down on you like bombers. Yet, from behind their faade of politeness, they take verbal pot shots at you. They use innuendoes, subtle digs, or non-playful teasing covered with smile.
? Confront the sniper. “That sounded like dig, did you mean it?” “Your last comment sounded as though you were trying to ridicule me. Was it intentional?”
? Always provide peaceful alternative. “Was it simply an unfortunate choice of words?”
? If the sniper won’t retreat, seek group consensus. “X says this is the worst project he’s ever had – does anyone else see it that way?”
? Once the situation is salvaged, you still have to deal with the underlying problem. Snipers seldom attack unprovoked, so look for the source of their discontent. Creating forum to air their concerns is good prevention method.

Fault finders
These are the perpetual complainers. Someone (you) should do something about the messy office, the salaries, the rain.
? The problem is they may be right. Listen attentively. Acknowledge their frustrations, but don’t respond to any accusations.
? State the facts without comment or apology, then go into problem solving mode. Ask how they would fix the situation.
? Point out that further talk is fruitless and ask them to suggest how to end it.

Ghosts are silent and unresponsive. You ask question or make controversial statement and all you get is blank stare. These people don’t like confrontation. They’re often shy, ill at ease and not confident.
? To get response, avoid open-ended questions like, “Do you agree” or “Anything to add?” Ask instead, “What’s your reaction right now?” or “What’s happening to you now?” Then smile and wait. Don’t fill the silence.
? If there’s still no reaction, comment on what’s happening. “You’re not saying anything, why is that?”
? Remember that “I don’t know” is not an answer. Don’t let them get away with it.
? Break the tension by asking why they find it difficult to share their thoughts.
? Don’t let the ghost leave without opening up.

These people need affirmation and acceptance. They’ll agree with your every idea and conform to your every wish. The trouble is they never follow through. They may also impair the workflow by postponing decisions that will hurt their popularity.
? Make honesty non-threatening. Tell them you appreciate their positive feedback, but that you’d also value some constructive criticism.

These individuals use the potential negativity in all of us to kill enthusiasm and ideas. While it’s good thing to play devil’s advocate, extinguishers can only see the dark side.
? Avoid being drawn into their despair. State your own positive state of mind.
? Get the whole picture before you believe there’s problem.
? Ask the extinguisher what the worst thing is that could possibly happen if you go down the proposed route.

Bubbles pretend to be the know-it-all experts, the repositories of facts and knowledge, and sources of the only good ideas. They are typically curious and alert to information, but not aware of the whole picture.
? To deal with them, state the correct facts as your own perception of reality; “I believe,” “To my knowledge.”
? Provide ways for the bubble-person to save face, perhaps by acknowledging that what they say is true in special cases.
? They are best confronted in private.

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