Workplaces today are stressful — tight deadlines, heavy workloads, high expectations of excellence combined with common realities of limited resources, inconsistent direction, team environments and interpersonal challenges. Conflict is inevitable.
While disruptions, creative differences and missed expectations are part of everyday work lives, it’s how conflict is dealt with that makes the difference between a healthy and dysfunctional workplace.
The pinch-crunch conflict model, developed by Jack Sherwood and John Glidewell, helps us understand the importance of resolving conflict while the issues are minor before they escalate into a full-blown feuds and battles. The model identifies the importance of sharing information and renegotiating expectations when pinches occur.
Too often, the reality is when we are “pinched” in the workplace, we fail to voice our concerns and choose to keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. We worry about rocking the boat or hurting others’ feelings or simply hope the behavior won’t continue.
In the meantime, the offending individual typically goes on offending, many times oblivious that their behavior has caused a problem.
Because the missed expectation has not been dealt with or communicated, the disappointing behavior continues and “pinches” accumulate. Frustration and resentment build, creating even more problems. Eventually these accumulated and unresolved pinches turn into “crunches,” full-blown, highly charged and potentially explosive situations resulting in managers asking, “How in the world did we get into this mess?”
Workplace crunches can end in explosive situations. Tensions, stakes and emotions have escalated. Unresolved crunches can result in lowered morale and performance, people giving up (resigned that the situation will never improve), hostile work environments and employee turnover.
It’s important to handle pinches before they turn into crunches. Waiting just makes them harder to resolve. If you find yourself in a workplace pinch, here are a few tips to consider:
- Voice your concerns early, even over small disagreements, rather than waiting or avoiding addressing them.
- Attempt to identify and address the real issue. Dig and be curious — you may have only the partial picture.
- Focus on the problem behavior versus making it personal. Describe the behavior that you observed without your personal interpretations, judgments or assumptions.
- Communicate your intentions, including the desire to improve your working relationship.
- Negotiate expectations. Clarify and agree to each other’s role responsibilities.
- Generate realistic options to meet established expectations.
- Seek agreement on next steps.
Handling pinches effectively often results in increased trust, confidence and improved relationships. Workplace relationships and teams are strengthened when differences are dealt with successfully. Wise managers recognize that problems and conflict are a part of the workplace. They don’t assume that they won’t have any problems; they recognize it’s their job as a leader to deal with problems before they become disasters.
The challenge for managers is to create and maintain an environment that not only allows but encourages healthy conflict.
For this to be successful, they need to foster and support open dialogue and a process to allow pinches to be identified and resolved before turning into full-blown crunches.
These are common workplace “pinches”:
- Unrealistic workplace expectations
- Confusion over roles
- Different standards for performance or behavior
- Feeling unappreciated or taken for granted
- Communication misunderstandings
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