Clear roles and goals reduce conflict and stress

August 22, 2010

Last month I wrote about confusion in roles and responsibilities contributing to conflict. Having said that, someone asked for more information about how to fix the situation.

Clearly understanding roles and goals greatly contributes to stress management in many situations, whether in a family or organization. Uncertainty is stressful and becomes blame, confusion about who does what, and feeling what work you do is unappreciated. In one case I mediated, the manager and employee had such different ideas of what each one’s role was, that their goals were constantly clashing. By the time I was invited to help, the manager’s goal was to find a way to get rid of the employee, while the employee’s goal was to replace the manager. They were both very stressed and mistrustful.

One of the relevant conflict management skills is asking good opened-ended questions. Here’s some steps to take, which is not an exhaustive list but will help frame the approach:

1. Determine the particular reason for having a goal.
The reason for a goal is fundamental to the approach to setting the goal. If the reason is to meet a target, such as sales, then setting the goal might have quantitative questions: how much, what size, which territory, who is responsible etc? If the reason for the goal is to support someone’s personal growth and development, the questions might be more qualitative: what feelings, whose perspectives, when in time, is it in the job description etc?

2. Discover the nature of the relationship between the people involved in setting the goal.
The context for the goal setting influences the process. Is there a power differential that might set of tone of the more powerful person dictating goals to the less powerful person? Is the relationship so strained that the people involved might never be able to agree on who has what role or responsibility? Is it peers who are collectively setting a team goal that all will be asked to meet?

3. Delve into how empowered the people involved are.
A common scenario might be a supervisor, who we’ll call R, giving a yearly performance review to a staff member, who we’ll call D. R and D may have a tense relationship based on past history of irritating each other, or a friendly relationship because they think on the same wavelength. R must still reflect on what his/her intentions are for the meeting with D about work goals. The choices for R would range from: having a friendly conversation because all is well with D’s work, to having a disciplinary tone in which consequences are set out if D does not meet R’s expectations, or anything in between.

4. Develop a clear intention for the process of setting goals
If you intend to set achievable goals, have an understanding of the power dynamic and options for how to frame the conversation. Some questions to ask yourself before going into the goal setting meeting might be: what assumptions do I have about the reasons, goals and employee; are those assumptions skewing my intention; if I change those assumptions do my intentions change?

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