A great deal of my work involves improving the respect level of the communication of a leader and his/her team members and teaching more effective ways of communicating during conflict. Here are some techniques I often share with my clients.
First, to establish an environment of respectful communication among your team members, positive feedback is very helpful. Leaders should look for significant successes of their team members and deliver reinforcing, positive feedback that describes the behaviors involved and the impact of these behaviors on the team and the organization. Leaders need to spend some time on a regular basis thinking about the morale of the team and inventing new efforts to improve their morale.
Second, deal with the conflict as quickly as is possible. Conflicts that are not addressed in a timely manner can fester. Conflicts often arise when dysfunctional behaviors are demonstrated and good leaders realize that dysfunctional behaviors that are ignored will usually be repeated. However, it is true that with some small conflicts, leaders should not get involved. Part of the art of leadership is knowing whether and when to get involved with a particular conflict.
Third, the leader should set realistic goals that challenge their followers. Most Americans are competitive. When goals that are clearly important to the team are identified, most team members will put their shoulders to the wheel. I once worked for a coal company that lost their number one customer, which resulted in having to sell their product to a larger number of customers to survive. Once the employees understood the situation and what they personally could do, the production doubled.
Finally, each employee should feel ownership for the tasks required of him or her. Some leaders feel the need to have a say on more things than are necessary. The more decisions an employee can make, the more he or she will feel ownership for the tasks. Decision-making responsibility makes employees feel more powerful also. My experience is that when employees feel powerful, their morale is generally higher.
There are many things in addition to these techniques that leaders can do to enhance the respectful nature of the team's communication and improve the way conflict is handled. Leaders, who frequently think about employee morale and productivity, find creative solutions that impact employees in positive ways.
Some leaders tell me they don't have time to think about employee morale. I tell them that they make decisions about their time every day and that working on employee performance is one of the most important responsibilities they have. So, give it a higher priority and you and the organization will benefit from the time spent on this issue.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons, visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.