Handling Conflict at Work

I remember a time I lost my temper at work. It was 1998, and I was a salesman working at an advertising agency. One of the sales team was bullying everyone else out of leads by declaring that every sector was his, and that every client had been contacted by him in the past.

You probably know the kind of guy – fiercely protecting his sales turf and making everyone else fail by strangling them of opportunity. He tried to claim one client too many from my list one day, and it came to a head. Like a petulant child I raced to my manager red-faced and exploded into a ball of fiery language.

My manager diffused the situation by saying in a calm voice “Matt – you’re angry, and you’re yelling at me in front of the whole office.” It worked. In the white-hot midst of my temper, I couldn’t see the situation very clearly. This reality check from my manager was all I needed to return to some sense of normality.

I have since discovered that my manager used on me a popular mediation and counselling technique known as “naming”. Peter Block in his book “The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion” dedicates a chapter to it. Naming is effectively labelling the situation or emotion content for what it is, and gives the person caught up in the emotional state a chance to break out of the “red mist” and move back towards reality.

Other “naming” statements might include:

“You’re asking me lots of questions about my performance. Is there something that’s troubling you about my CV?”

“You’re visibly agitated and you seem to be blaming the customer more than usual. Are you two not seeing eye-to-eye?”

“It appears you’ve had some bad experiences with people like me”.

From time to time a client will ask us to help out with some conflict management at work. Maybe it’s in-fighting within the sales or customer service teams, or friction between customers and account handling. This is just one of the techniques that we recommend. Let me know if you have used this technique or anything like it.

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