A team leader cannot change a person’s personality or basic values. These fundamental traits and deep-seated beliefs. Nevertheless, it is possible for a team leader to help associates modify the behavioral consequences of their personality and values.
Let’s examine two behavioral approaches, counseling and behavior modification, to conflict resolution that can be used effectively by team leaders.
One major element in the leadership process is providing directions to subordinates. Counseling is more subtle. When team leaders counsel subordinates, they are advising the subordinates about what should be done and why. Sometimes, just by asking the right questions, a team leader can provide solid, indirect advice to an associate.
Sometimes simply being able to express one’s feelings to a concerned and understanding listener is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for an individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind. This nondirective approach is one effective way for team leaders to deal with frustrated team members.
Listening to team members with sympathy and understanding is unlikely to escalate the problem, and is a widely used approach for helping people to cope with problems that interfere with their effectiveness in their place of work. A review of a wide body of research on counseling techniques and methodologies reveals some common themes.
These themes suggest some guidelines as listed below:
• Make eye contact
• Listen in a patient and friendly manner
• Help to relieve fears or anxieties
• Praise the process of describing thoughts and feelings accurately
• Direct the dissuasion to some topic that has been omitted or neglected
• Be sensitive to gender differences
• Be succinct and organize your thoughts before delivering them
• Pay attention to voice tone, intonation, and pitch
Cultural differences may complicate the counseling relationship. Individuals from different cultural backgrounds often have different communicating styles. Because one cannot always assess the cultured background of an employee, the team leader needs a general strategy for getting off on the right foot and keeping the lines of communication open.
One suggested strategy is to:
• Show genuine interest and a sense of curiosity and appreciation
• Listen with empathy
• Maintain a non-judgmental attitude
• Be flexibility
• Try to maintain a learning mode
The meaning of each of these is fairly obvious, except perhaps for the last. Having a learning attitude is being free of preconceived notions. This may cause some team leaders some discomfort and they may feel that it places them in the role of psychiatrist.
B. F. Skinner, the father of behavior modification, stated that “Behavior is a function of its consequences.” In other words, the goal of our behavior is to satisfy our needs. If those needs are satisfied, we continue that behavior; if not, we stop it. Behavior modification is based on the following principles: People will continue a behavior if they are rewarded for it particularly if the reward occurs soon after the behavior. People will usually stop behaving in a certain way if they are not rewarded, or punished.
Behavior modification requires continuous reinforcement with rewards or punishments every time a team member performs a certain behavior. For example, suppose a team member tends to be late returning from breaks. A team leader could continuously reinforce acceptable behavior by praising this employee whenever they are not late or continuously punish unacceptable behavior by scolding that person whenever they are late.
Many behavioral experts believe that punishment should be used infrequently because it tends to produce undesirable side effects. No one likes to be punished and will often look for ways to retaliate, such as leaving their jobs, spreading negative rumors about the team leader, and performing only a minimum amount of work. In short, punishment should be an option that team leaders are slow to exercise.
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