Some time during your tenure as a manager the sky is going to fall. I’m not talking about a schedule slip or a spirited meeting or being screwed. I’m talking a total disaster… yelling… fighting. Best case, HR is involved. Worst case, so are lawyers. This is conflict of a magnitude you’ll only see a few times in your life… and you’re in the middle of it. Sorry about that.
Bad news first. I can’t help prepare you for this particular disaster because it’s of a unfamiliar make and model. Every team, product, and company is different which means your particular disaster requires insider knowledge which I don’t possess. My brief advice is always… if the shit is hitting the fan… call HR. They can help. They can fortify.
What I want to talk about is how your worst break-up ever prepares you nicely for this disaster.
Rough segue, I know, but bear with me.
First, we need to set the wayback machine for that time your were dumped by the love of your life. You know, the one where after the deer was done, you were barely recognizable to your self. It’s the one you swore you were going to climb into your car and drive to the other side of the planet because life was over as you knew it. Sure, you didn’t actually do it, BUT YOU SURE MEANT IT.
I’d like to propose a moment of collective weblog silence for all break-ups like this because, wow, they suck.
We get over these break-ups not because time passes it’s because whoever dumped us usually comes back… several times. I mean it, as long as there is no restraining order involved, the person who dumped you calls you back and you both do something which you both think is stupid, but is actually quite healthy. You hook-up again in some fashion. Then, one of your quickly realizes why you broke-up in the first place and the break-up occurs again… and again.
This happens so reliably in my relationships that, later in my life, break-ups became slightly less painful because I knew that while she was dumping me that she’d have to call in the next two months because, at some point, she’d just remember more good stuff than bad stuff and wonder why we broke up.
Call ’em relationship bounces because I think the whole break-up process looks like a bouncing ball. The moment you break-up you drop a big red ball on a flat surface… metaphorically. Time passes, the ball hits the ground with a decent amount of force and proceeds to reach another peak which is never as high as the original. This peak represents a relationship bounce where you plus your significant other briefly relieve your relationship. Repeat as many times as necessary which each peak representing an ever small bounce of the relationship which eventually fades.
Now, we’ve all sat in a bar with our friends telling us how stupid is to hook-up with your ex, but I’m here to tell you it’s a brilliant idea. Each bounce is a chance to heal because the last person you should be talking to about being dumped is your friends… they’re telling you what you want to hear. You should be talking to the dumper because they have the most information… and they convienently always come back.
Relationship bounces help you heal.
You are now officially wondering how in the world I am going to tie this back into the corporation. Here it is: Major conflict follows the same pattern as a bad break-up… it’s never over after the first event. It echos… it rebounds… and, as a manager, you need to be aware of this pattern for a couple of reasons.
First, you need to understand that whatever your conflict is… it’s going to coming back. You’re going to be seriously relieved when the first storm passes, but you need to immediately prepare for and possibly induce the next bounce because it’s coming… someone is going to yell again… someone is stewing in their office right now and your job is be ready for the next conflict.
Second, each bounce should be progressively smaller because you know it’s coming and are doing something to prepare for it. The worst case scenario is when the original conflict occurs and the second bounce is as bad or worse… we call that escalation and escalation is a sure sign someone is asleep at the wheel.
Third, and lastly, just like a bad break-up, these rebounds are essential. Sure, there will be more yelling, but when someone is yelling, they are working on something… they are, hopefully, making mental progress on whatever it is they are trying to communicate. When I found myself staring at the middle of a big bad conflict, my first thought is, “How am I going to make the next bounce happen faster?” You read that right. I want bounce number two because that brings me even close to bounce number three. See where I’m headed? Subsequent smaller conflict bounces means we’re making progress and are ever closer to resolution.
The number one thing to remember about big bad conflict is that, just like horrible break-ups, people are about as emotional as you’ll ever see them. Conflict is not the time to make decisions, make judgments, or really do anything except try as hard as possible to calmly weather the storm. You’re human so you’re going to be tempted to jump into the emotional fray, but that’s not your job.
Your job is mediation, you are neutral, and each passing moment of conflict is making you a stronger manager.