Have you had to resolve conflict or a difference of an opinion between two team members? If you haven’t, you will eventually and you need to learn that conflict resolution isn’t about finding out who is right or playing referee. Let me tell you the story of Talia Jane.
is the pseudonym of a Yelp / Eat24 employee who wrote an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman last week about her difficulty making ends meet on a customer service representative salary. Later that day she was fired. I became aware of the story when I saw a headline in one of my feeds “29-year-old millennial rips 25-year-old Yelp employee who got fired after complaining about her salary“. Yes, it was link-bait but I was curious to see what it was all about. I read the response article before I read the original post.
Difference Of Perspective
In her rebuttal post, Stefanie Williams explains that she had to swallow her pride after the 2008 crash and take a job as a hostess. Through hard work, compromise and perseverance she turned that job into a steady income and eventually was able to work 4 days a week and become a freelance journalist on the side. I applaud Stefanie for her courage, focus and effort on her journey. She has earned the right to take pride in her achievements.
Stefanie’s response is a little like a parent or grandparent chiding an kid who is having a tantrum
because they didn’t get a new toy, or has to eat something they don’t like. From Stefanie’s perspective, what it takes to succeed is hard work, compromise and having to eat some humble pie. She wants Talia Jane to know this and to be grateful for what she does have in life.
Then I moved onto Talia Jane’s original post. Based on Stefanie’s response, I expected Talia to come across as ungrateful and whiny because that’s what Stefanie had implied. From my perspective, Talia seemed to have a reasonable set of gripes, colored by an expectation that her company should be more kind than they actually are. I feel for Talia.
Life isn’t meeting her expectations and she feels hard done by.
So who is right, or has the most valid position in this discussion? The answer is no-one. Talia Jane has an opinion based on her life experience that has given her a certain set of expectations and perspective. Stefanie has an opinion based on her life experience that has given her a certain set of expectations and perspective. From where each of them sits, their position is valid. There are 1M shares on Stefanie’s story at the moment. Clearly a lot of people identify with Stefanie’s perspective. Does that make her right? There 2.5K likes and 844 comments on Talia Janes post. Does that make her right? Also notice that I formed an opinion based entirely on whose article I read first.
When two people are disagreeing, that disagreement comes from their difference in perspective on a particular issue. Managers often face this problem when they have two capable, bright, successful team members who are in conflict because they have a different view of a problem or its solution. Each team member want the other person to see the problem the way they do. They want to be the one that is right. And as the disagreement goes on, they become more entrenched.
In my last full-time job, there was an engineering manager working in another group who flat out ignored me in meetings. When I spoke, he would nod to his team to respond to me. It was, in my view, incredibly disrespectful and unhelpful given we had a challenging project to deliver on behalf of the company. After the “nodding” meeting I brought this up to my manager. I was emotional. My manager – in my view – didn’t take my complaint seriously and suggested that I had done something to earn this treatment. 1,2,3. I was feeling disrespected by my colleague, my manager didn’t listen to me and to compound it all these exchanges had happened in front of a couple of members of my team.
I was embarrassed and frustrated that I didn’t get the support I needed from my manager.
That guy seems like a jerk right? Not really, he did his best based on his experience and skills to manage the situation. It just wasn’t what I needed.
As a manager, your job isn’t referee. You aren’t there to decide who is right. If you act like the parent who always steps in to resolve conflict between their kids, you’re teaching your team that they need you to resolve their problems. Instead, you need the skills of a counselor or skilled negotiator who is able to maintain impartiality, make sure both parties feel heard and help them find a solution that feels equitable. You have to do this while feeling pressure yourself. Maybe the project is over schedule and you need them to resolve this quickly. Maybe you are in a meeting with lots of people and you fear people are judging you as a manager because your team members are in conflict.
Maybe you’re dealing with me when I feel a sense of injustice – impassioned, angry and forceful. You are in a tough situation.
Conflict and disagreement in your team are inevitable. Resolving conflict as a manager requires emotional balance, self awareness and genuine empathy that comes from working on them over a long period of time. Whether it’s Talia Jane and Stefanie Williams, or two of your team members your goal is to teach them to solve conflict when it arises. And for Talia and Stefanie, I guess they’ll have to figure it out on their own.