The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Business today is more fast-paced than ever, and we each hold massive computing and communication power is in the palm of our hand. This technology accompanies us on life’s journey, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everywhere we go. We are working in the flattest organizations ever designed—often in noisy, distracting open-plan environments. We are also increasingly thrust into matrix relationships with bosses, subordinates, and colleagues residing in distant climes. Because we rarely meet face to face, communication becomes strained.

Milestones, timelines, targets, revenue goals, and key performance indicators all scream for blood. We are under pressure to instantly respond in a growing culture of impatience. If our computer boots slowly, if a file takes time to download, we are severely irritated. Twenty years ago, we were amazed by the ability to instantly send a document from one location to another by email. Oh, the revolution of rising expectations!

Imagine our forebears who, when working internationally, had to wait for the mail from headquarters to arrive by boat, then months for their reply to be received, and months more for an answer. Super snail mail ping-pong. Life back then was a wee bit more leisurely, and people had more independence. Not today. We want it, and we want it now—look out anyone who gets in our way. We have unconsciously designed a system guaranteed to produce more workplace conflict, which can be broken down into five categories.

How much control do we have? We need to analyze the root cause of the problem and talk to the process owner. They may not be aware that they are causing problems for others. We need to diplomatically raise the issue, get agreement that it needs to be resolved, and come up with a joint plan to fix it.

Easily arises in flat organizations. What is our perception of our own role in relation to others? We can’t expect them to clarify it for us, so we have to take the lead. It’s hard, but we must be prepared to change our perception of what our actual role is. We should take the macro view and see where we need to be flexible to make sure the organization is moving forward. This may require change, and we must see change as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Confronted by the actions, behaviors, words, and reported versions from others, we need to step back and ask: “To what degree are my personal biases and prejudices affecting this relationship?” Are people telling me things to suit their own agenda, stirring me up for no good reason?

There are key things we can do to improve the situation. We usually know exactly what these are, but we don’t want to do them. However, we must commit to those changes—as difficult and painful as it may be. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the other person to change; take action yourself.

This may mean having a direct conversation with your counterpart. Before doing that, forget about what you want for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. Reflect on how you would see the issue from their perspective. This will make it easier to have that one-on-one conversation.

Check to see if you are clear on the organization’s current direction or vision. Bring up the discrepancy between you and the other party in a respectful, neutral way. This is not about establishing blame (although we often like doing that!) but about achieving joint clarity.

This is tough because, by definition, you lack power or control. Ask yourself whether you have a dog in this fight. Choose your battles carefully and concentrate on what you can do to improve things, rather than wasting energy whining about what you cannot control. As a rule, if you find yourself complaining about anything beyond your control, stop and reset your mind around how the situation can be improved. Ask yourself: “In what way can we continue to move the organization forward?” In the words of the hardest-working man in show business, James Brown, “Get on the good foot!”

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