In an ideal self-storage world, you’d work in a heavenly management office with no problems. Your coworkers would be angelic; your customers would pay on time and come in with a smile every day. Instead of a golf cart on its last legs, Pegasus would fly you on his back across the property. In my version, Jerry Garcia would be hanging out, riffing on the guitar. Everyone would get along and laugh. No conflict at all!
Let’s drop back down to earth now. Disharmony is often inevitable in the workplace. Employees and customers come from different backgrounds, geographical areas, mindsets and perspectives. While some will mesh great, others might struggle to get along. If tension is left to fester and build, it could lead to situations from which staff won’t be able to back pedal.
“Conflict is inevitable, unfortunately. No one is immune to coworker drama. Learning how to de-escalate conflicts and help others work through them are the best tools organizations can give leaders,” says Kathleen Harvey, a human resources (HR) administrator for Amazon.
Any discord among your self-storage team should be managed in a proactive manner. Following are some tips for recognizing and averting potential issues and finding resolutions when you can’t.
3 Types of Conflict
While conflict can arise from anywhere, in a self-storage office setting, there are generally three primary triggers. Any of them can cause high levels of tension, and tempers will flare if the situation isn’t addressed.
One employee isn’t pulling his weight. Perhaps he isn’t helping to clean the property, follow up with leads, perform marketing tasks or maintain the rental truck. When a coworker doesn’t complete his assigned tasks, it affects others who must pick up the slack. The property could also suffer, resulting in bad facility audits, unhappy tenants, negative reviews and more.
Personalities clash. For example, an extroverted, service-oriented manager may get frustrated with his introverted, quiet coworker, and vice versa. The situation can quickly get messy if not handled with care.
There’s poor communication. At a self-storage property, employees often don’t work together every day. A customer-service or maintenance-related issue might easily arise when only one of them is on site. If the on-duty manager fails to leave notes or other communication to update his coworkers, there will be problems—not only among staff, but with customers.
The first step to resolving any discord is to acknowledge your role. Conflict is never 100 percent on one person and zero percent on another. Take a step back and figure out the part you’ve played in the problem. What could you have done differently?
The next step is to learn what’s going on with your coworker. For instance, if a dependable employee is suddenly distracted or struggling to complete tasks, find out if there’s a reason.
In an article on “CNBC Make It,” former Navy SEAL commander John “Jocko” Willink advised, “Instead of assuming that they’re lazy and they’re a bum, you assume that they’ve got something going on in their life that is interfering with their work.” He suggests approaching the person and asking if you can help. You’ll recognize if he’s is taking advantage of your concern or genuinely appreciates the support.
If your coworker is completely fine but perhaps lacks inspiration, recognize what motivates him to do a good job. Is it words of affirmation? If so, let him know how well he did when he sold those extra boxes or when he cleaned that unit after a vacate. If he’s the rebel type, instead of telling him what tasks to complete, ask him what he wants to do. Giving him ownership of his decisions makes him feel he’s in control.
Another option is to confront your coworker directly and let him know what you’re perceiving and how it’s making you feel. In this approach, active listening is vital. Allow the person to voice his perception and how he feels. Repeat what he says with, “I hear you are saying…” and make sure you’re both on the same page. By airing it out, the conflict may subside, and all will be well.
When to Go to a Supervisor
In a perfect world, conflict resolutions would always work and there wouldn’t be a need to get anyone above you involved. Unfortunately, there may be times when you need help from a district manager, the owner or HR. When all ideas have been exhausted—you’ve adjusted behavior on your end, but your coworker hasn’t—you need support.
The protocol for making a report of this kind should have been shared with you during your initial management training. It should be a priority for everyone to understand the company’s code of behavior. Once a formal report is submitted, it’s best to not discuss the problem with your coworker. Continue to do your work until instructed in how to proceed.
An Ounce of Prevention
Even though conflict will arise in any self-storage workplace, there are ways to prevent and minimize it. One of the most important is to set clear expectations for employee behavior. Everyone should understand and adhere to company policies and procedures. Ongoing training is key.
Another solution is to simply avoid discussing topics that could spark problems: religion, politics, romantic relationships, family issues, your career and personal finances. These can easily cause division between staff. If you want to get to know your coworker, chat about community events, your children and pets, TV shows, movies and music, your favorite restaurants, vacation spots, books, sports, or even the weather. These are fun, easy-going topics that encourage people to be friendly with very little possibility of drama.
Perhaps the best way to prevent and resolve workplace conflict is to simply be the bigger person. Keep your head down and do your work. If tasks pile up—creating an opportunity for tempers to flare—Willink says to stay humble and, “Turn it into an opportunity to get ahead.” By showing supervisors you can handle anything that comes your way, including interpersonal conflict, you’re more likely to be rewarded.
Conflict occurs because humans are, well, human. It’s how you respond that shows your true colors.
Steven Jeffers is the facilities and operations manager for Bee Safe Storage and Wine Cellar, which operates 21 self-storage facilities in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Texas. His experience and knowledge includes local marketing, management optimization and leadership training. To reach him, e-mail [email protected].