• How Will Your Team Air Its Grievances This Busy Season?

    By | January 26, 2016

    If you are leading a team this busy season, it's likely that a conflict or two may arise and passive-aggressive behavior may result. When you have a group of people sitting on their asses for hours, day after day, not seeing daylight for months on end, it's inevitable. 

    When passive-aggressive behavior does happen, there are a few ways to handle it: 1) Address it head on; 2) Address it indirectly through more passive-aggressive behavior like post-it notes and snide remarks; 3) Don't address it and allow the tension to grow until the situation implodes and chaos ensues.

    Perhaps you think that options 2 and 3 are fine and worth the risk in order to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, however this slightly overwrought Harvard Business Review piece would disagree with you:

    The cost of passive-aggressiveness is high. At the business level, the negative effects include slow decision making, poor risk identification and mitigation, and stalled execution. On the team level, unarticulated but apparent frustrations erode trust, interfere with communication, and contribute to animosity. For individuals, the prolonged stress of unaddressed conflict takes a toll. Everyone suffers.

    As a team leader, your role is to foster productive conflict by surfacing issues that would otherwise go underground. But having too little conflict can often be attributed to conflict-avoidant team leaders. Reflect on your own mindset about conflict. If you realize you are conflict avoidant, you will need to shift your own mindset before implementing the tactics below. Think about what contributed to your biases about conflict and which outdated notions can be discarded. Then focus on the benefits of addressing conflict more directly, such as increased innovation, faster execution, less gossip and drama, fewer meetings, and better risk mitigation.

    You might be wondering how to articulate these situations and, lucky for us, the suggestions are comically confrontational.

    For example, let's say you don't know how you want to address passive-aggressiveness. Easy! You call a meeting to say so:

    [H]old a special session to discuss the dynamic you want to establish. Be explicit about the need for conflict, and work with the team to set your conflict ground rules.

    In other words, you have to establish that the airing of grievances is okay and rules will be enforced during those sessions. If you're sticking with the Festivus theme here, this is where feats of strength could come in.

    But what happens when no one speaks up or challenges you to hand-to-hand combat? Encourage, encourage, encourage:

    [M]ake room for dissent. Before bringing any discussion to a close, ask, “What haven’t we talked about?” or “How might someone criticize this idea?”

    This will be the cue to your team that responses such as, "Well, I'd criticize that idea by saying that it's an awful idea," or "I'll tell you what we haven't talked about! We haven't talked about Janice eating my Noosa yogurt!" 

    However, some team members may avoid the conflict non-verbally. Then there's this fine suggestion:

    Make sure you identify passive-aggressive behavior every time you see it. For example, when body language is negative, ask, “I’ve noticed that you’ve pushed away from the table. How are you reacting to this discussion?” or “I just saw three people roll their eyes. What’s going on?”

    Again, be ready for anything: "Excuse me, Caleb, I see you're making the 'jerk-off' motion. Is something the matter?" The article also goes so far to diffuse sarcasm whenever it rears its ugly head:

    Commonly, passive-aggressive behavior is expressed with sarcasm. Don’t allow humor to shut things down. Say, “We’ve enjoyed a laugh, now let’s get back to Bob’s point” or “I get the sense we’re using humor to avoid a serious discussion. What’s making this conversation difficult?”

    Anyone who says, "I get the sense we’re using humor to avoid a serious discussion," might be a little emotionally detached, so choose your response wisely there.

    I guess my point is, confronting passive-aggressive colleagues doesn't have to be some methodical, robotic experience that requires a group therapy session to talk it out. However, if there's a team-wide problem and the person in charge of your team is conflict-avoidant, then a regularly scheduled airing of grievances might be necessary.

    But really, the best thing you can do is just treat people like human beings. If they seem upset about something, maybe just try asking them, "Hey, are you upset about something?" Or, "Are we okay? I'm getting a vibe." Or, "Let's talk to Janice. I know she doesn't give a fuck, but then at least she'll know that we know that she doesn't give a fuck and we are not okay with it."

    I realize my expectations might be a little unrealistic for accountants, so if you have other suggestions on how to resolve conflict during this busiest, stressiest time of year, share them below.  

    • PwCASSociate

      Anyone who executes that HBR advice as presented would look like a fucking douche canoe.

      A: “I think we need to talk about what is going on. I’m concerned that we aren’t using our meetings effectively to air all of our opinions”
      B: “So you think these are unproductive?”
      A: “I want everyone to add value before decisions are made, not after”
      B: “So you think these are unproductive.”
      A: “Often, two or three people come to my office after each meeting to discuss something that I expected to be raised in the meeting.”
      B: “Yes, because open dialogue in front of the group turns into this passive-aggressive exchange going on now. Stop patronizing us and just say what you want to say: these meetings are unproductive because you cannot effectively lead them.”

      • Chipman69

        The DYNAMIC professionals at GT headquarters in Chicago let off steam during busy season by racing their FUCKING DOUCHE CANOES using their WHOLE SELVES down the Chicago river!!!! Members of the winning team have proven to GT executives that since they have the INSTINCT FOR GROWTH necessary to penetrate the finish line with their FUCKING DOUCHE CANOES, they will be able to thrust themselves into any CHOSEN MARKET they choose!!!!!!!!!

        • Reasonable Assurance’s Broseph


    • dumpus

      Oh i’m all about the free-market approach – let it fester and build until there’s nothing left of the audit room but a mushroom cloud of yelling, screaming, crying, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and strewn-about nature valley bar wrappers. The situation will surely take care of itself in the most efficient and economical way possible, for the benefit of all.

      That one toolbag who chews with his mouth open and is constantly smacking his lips together for hours on end? Any type of intervention other than full-blown Fury Road anarchy when someone snaps into a black hole of anger and frustration is futile at best, marginalizing at worst. Seeing the event horizon of rage spread across the audit room, sucking everyone in but the most obtuse of introverted accountants, adding a spark to an otherwise devoid plane of existence, is like watching the sun rise and kiss the budding life across the wastelands in one of those old Discovery Channel shows they used to show before watching rednecks make hooch in the woods became the vogue.

      The well being of one being sacrificed for the well being of the many is a magical, transcendent team-building exercise.

      • liEYr

        “rednecks make hooch in the woods”! Moonshine makes everything better in life my friend!

      • Green Dot Peon

        Pure poetry

    • MWCPA

      Bare knuckle boxing. If you’re not mad enough to bare knuckle box you’re not mad.