When you were trained as a self-storage manager, you probably spent a lot of time focusing on how to run your facility efficiently and profitably, but probably not so much on how to handle conflict. If you did discuss dispute resolution, it was probably in reference to customers, maybe even coworkers, not your supervisor or owner. But at some point in your career, you’ll likely face a negative situation with a boss; and knowing how to deal with it is just as valuable as great sales or revenue-management skills.
Successful conflict resolution is important in any workplace because it keeps minor disagreements from turning into major problems. When members of a team are able to work through their differences and achieve a positive outcome, the entire company benefits.
Occasional quarrels with those higher up the “food chain” than you are inevitable. The important thing is that you know how to cope with these situations effectively. Following are a few strategies that can help.
Do a Quick Self-Check
Before we get to conflict-resolution strategies, let’s discuss a quick self-check you can do to help determine the cause of whatever situation you’re facing. Perhaps you’re dealing with a “bad boss,” but it’s also possible that you’re the one creating the problem. For this reason, it’s wise to take a deep breath and ask yourself:
- Have you always worked for “an idiot,” no matter which job you’ve held?
- Do your teammates like your boss, or at least think they’re OK or fair?
- Are you negative all the time about most things, even stuff that’s non-work-related?
- Is it possible that you’re holding onto a grudge against a former boss and taking it out on this one?
This simple, important step will ensure you don’t act rashly and do or say something you’re going to regret. Instead, take a beat, then focus your energy and attention where they can make a positive change.
See Things Through Their Eyes
If you’ve determined that you aren’t the root of the problem (or sought help for yourself if you are), it’s time to gather more information, so you can better understand the conflict you’re facing. Observe your boss’ behavior for a few days or a week. If you perceive them as behaving badly, try to figure out what may be causing it. Is it their own fault, or could they be reacting to something outside of their control?
For example, let’s say your supervisor brings you in for a stern discussion about you unexpectedly missing a day of work last week. Are they simply following company policy about absenteeism, or are they truly upset or even jealous about your “day off”? Look at the situation through their eyes, in the context of their role, and try to imagine what you’d do if you were in their shoes.
Your supervisor or owner is human and will make mistakes, just like you. Many people who are promoted to high-level positions are never properly trained in how to manage people. Many self-storage owners are pros at making real estate investments but aren’t so skilled at handling a team of employees.
Finally, remember: Your boss probably faces many demands and pressures you know nothing about, not the least of which is having to answer to their own supervisor! Bear in mind that everything you do reflects on them and their ability to do their job. Realizing that may help you see a difficult situation from a better perspective.
Keep Emotions in Check
Another thing to remember when experiencing a conflict with your self-storage owner or supervisor is to try not to take things personally. This might be challenging if you feel they’re making unreasonable demands or throwing their negative attitude in your direction, but it’s important to manage your emotions and assess the situation objectively. You never want to lash out or react in a way that negatively affects your professional reputation or performance. Further, remaining calm will help you maintain positive energy and reduce stress.
It’s also a good idea to set boundaries. Know your rights as an employee and identify what you can and can’t tolerate. Be clear about what you expect from your boss as well as yourself. If your supervisor is disrespectful or engages in personal attacks, let them know this isn’t acceptable. Be polite and gracious, but be absolutely clear that you won’t be threatened or insulted by anyone. Every person in the workplace, regardless of their position, deserves respect and dignity. It should go both up and down the ladder.
Whatever you do, don’t express your anger or frustration in the quality of your work. Your job is to perform at the highest level possible. Slacking off or producing low-quality results to spite your boss will only add fuel to their fire and could hurt you in the long run. Ultimately, you’re responsible for you.
Align Your Points of View
When conflicts arise, acknowledge and respect the other person’s position, and seek to understand their point of view. Ask open-ended questions and truly listen vs. just responding. Keep asking, “Is there anything else I should know?” until they’ve said all they need to say. You want to be certain you have all available information from their side. What you’re hoping to find in this conversation is common ground, such as the goals you share for the company.
Let’s say your supervisor has come down on you about waiving late fees. Typically, a late-fee policy benefits the company because it deters delinquency and helps boost revenue. However, there are times when waiving the fee makes sense. In general, you want to follow the rules, but going “off book” occasionally yields a better result.
For example, let’s say Mr. Jones is a problem tenant who often pays late. He’s finally willing to move out so you can rent the unit to a (hopefully) more reliable customer at a higher rate. He needs to bring his account current, though, and he’s struggling financially. To facilitate this, you waive the late fee. Yes, you’ve diverged from policy, but your goal matches that of your employer: to minimize delinquency and fill units with good tenants to who pay on time at a profitable rate. What supervisor could argue with that logic?
Often, the trick to avoiding or resolving conflict with your boss is as simple as aligning your perspective and actions with the things that matter most to them. Once they understand that you also want what’s best for the company, they’ll be more likely to loosen their grip and allow you some leeway.
It’s also good to remember that just because someone has the title of manager, supervisor or owner, it doesn’t mean they have all the answers. The best leaders often hire people who have deeper knowledge than they do in certain roles. This allows them to focus on the bigger picture while employees expertly and efficiently perform day-to-day tasks. Seeing your boss’ point of view and understanding the symbiosis between your goals and theirs is vital to maintaining a positive relationship.
Take Initiative, Avoid Triggers
Another important step is to identify your supervisor’s triggers and strive to avoid setting them off. If your boss tends to nag you about picking up trash throughout the self-storage property or tucking in pull-down ropes on doors for a neater appearance, recognize that their aim has a lot less to do with you than it does about wanting to present the best possible curb appeal to tenants.
When you know a person’s triggers, you can anticipate negative responses and course correct to steer clear. Make it a habit to take care of certain details before your boss can point them out. For example, if you’re doing a facility walk-through together, actively correct the door-pull rope or pick up trash before they say a word about it. They’ll recognize that you share the same goal of impeccable cleanliness and appreciate your initiative.
If your supervisor routinely asks for a copy of your self-storage management summary and rental-activity report when they walk in the door, have those items ready before they get there. They’ll be pleased with your preparation and attention to detail. Similarly, if your monthly reports are due by close of business on the second day of the month, complete them as far ahead of that deadline as possible. Strive to never have your boss ask for them.
The same goes for placing orders for your self-storage retail merchandise. If you’re low on boxes but need a supervisor’s approval before placing an order, perform an inventory check and get the order ready with pricing, if possible. If you have access to your store budget, check to see how much is available to ensure the order is within that total. Send all the information to your boss with a request for authorization.
These examples are all about initiative. Provide enough information for your boss or owner to make an easy decision. Anticipating their triggers and fulfilling requests before being asked is a surefire way to outpace any complaint or correction. It’ll also likely result in you receiving positive recognition for doing an exemplary job!
Ask for Clarity
This final tip on conflict resolution is borrowed straight from couples’ therapy. It’s also easy to do in any situation, as long as you remain calm and avoid any sarcasm or negativity. When your boss asks you to do something or you’re having a disagreement, simply repeat what they said and ask, “Is that what you meant?” If they agree, ask them to elaborate.
This does two crucial things. First, it allows them to better explain their comment or instructions to ensure you understand what they intended. Second, your boss will feel they’re being heard and surmise that you’re listening closely because you want to achieve their desired results. You might follow up with something like:
- Can I confirm the end result you’re looking for, so I can aim myself toward that goal?
- I just want to make sure I’m heading in the right direction on this project. Can you please elaborate, so my path is clearer?
These are great ways to let your boss know you share their goals while gaining clarity and enforcing realistic expectations.
Much like a marriage, supervisors and subordinates have shared accountability. You’re rowing the same boat, so you need to go in the same direction. Remember, your mutual goal should be the company’s success, so it’s up to all parties to help the team and business achieve it.
Make the Most of Your Opportunity
As you put these strategies into play in your self-storage operation, your boss should see that you genuinely care about the company and will appreciate your efforts. You may even be rewarded with more flexibility and better compensation. If not, remember that you’re the CEO of your own career. It’s up to you to find and make the most of every opportunity.
The self-storage industry is enjoying explosive growth. If you feel stuck in a bad situation and are unable to resolve disputes with your supervisor or owner, there’ll always be another position waiting for someone with your experience, initiative and new conflict-resolution skills. What great boss wouldn’t want someone of your caliber on their team?
Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), a self-storage consulting and management firm, where she oversees branding, design, marketing, public relations and more for the company’s 70-plus property portfolio. With more than 21 years of industry experience, she also works closely on USG’s facility-development and transition projects, and is responsible for driving the manager-training program and new-store startup teams. Stacie is a regular speaker at industry events and contributes to publications. To reach her, call 770.801.1888 or visit her profile on LinkedIn.