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Blog - Preventing Conflict at Work – what can a fight on Mount Everest tell us? by Tracy Powley

Preventing Conflict at Work – what can a fight on Mount Everest tell us? by Tracy Powley

Posted by Debbie Stanfield 14/03/14


There was a headline-hitting incident last year on Mount Everest when relationships between European climbers and Sherpas disintegrated into physical conflict. The episode has been captured in a recently released film called High Tension.  The climbers involved have since talked about the need to “respect different cultures” and listen to each other’s problems “on a personal level” if a similar incident is to be avoided.

Wise words indeed and absolutely transferable into our day to day workplaces.

Frustrations between different parties at work are commonplace and to a certain extent to be expected when people with differing views and backgrounds all come together in one place. But it is possible to minimise the tensions we might experience with colleagues and deal with issues more constructively, when they do arise, by getting to know each other better and agreeing some “ground rules” early on.

Exchanging expectations is a simple and highly effective way of agreeing how two parties are going to work together. It works because it focuses on open communication, which is genuinely two-way. Not a manager imposing their view on a team member or a colleague having a bit of a dig at another, but a real discussion about what each needs from the other, in order to work effectively.

The key is to ensure both parties....
• Prepare – think through what your expectations of the other person are, before discussing
• Be specific. If you ask someone to “communicate better” it is hard for them to have a clear picture of what you mean. Suggesting fortnightly one to ones or asking to be debriefed the day after a senior management meeting are requests, which are far clearer and more concrete and therefore more likely to be implemented.
• ensure it is two way – both parties must have an opportunity to talk through their expectations of the other
• write it down – having a written record helps to ensure both parties commit to the agreement and also gives you something to come back and review
• Review  - having put the effort into having the discussion, ensure it makes a difference by checking in with each other at an agreed point. This will give you both the chance to give feedback on whether you are both doing what you said you would...

Try doing this with each of your team members and watch communication improve.

And perhaps exchanging expectations would be a good way for Everest climbers to avoid further conflict at 20,000 feet!

Debbie Stanfield
Debbie Stanfield

I joined Stella and Tracy at Focal Point in 2003 and have seen both the Company and my role evolve during this time. I now work closely with the management team to achieve and improve business efficiently. To re-energise myself after a day in the office, I like to go to Zumba classes in the evening!

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