Play the umpire to manage stress

Avoid falling prey to Wimbledon-style outbursts.

Greg Rusedski's recent outburst at Wimbledon was judged as a low point in tennis, but many IT managers may sympathise with the pressures of being at the receiving end of dubious decisions and operating in a high-profile environment.

Rusedski was criticised for his actions because he reacted to a tough decision on prime time television. But just because those of us working in IT do not share an office with TV cameras, have we more right to lose our temper when projects and people do not work according to plan?

The simple answer is, of course, we do not. Conflict at work can be damaging and destructive, both for team members and for overall project goals. Ultimately, unresolved conflicts will also cost valuable time and money.

However, by taking some basic steps, problems can be avoided before they hit the IT manager's already strained bottom line. Remember that most people are motivated by a comfortable working environment, job satisfaction, the ability to succeed at work or a combination of all three.

The first step towards meeting these motivations lies in being able to spot problems quickly. It sounds simple, but in the same way that hardware or software problems often have well-hidden bugs, conflicts can be covert.

Frustration builds up because the victim often feels nobody else is aware of their concerns. Monitoring the work climate can be an early warning system, making it easier to deal with issues before they get out of hand. Do not think you have to be continuously on your guard - it just means keeping your eyes open.

Take time to consider the cause. Too often, IT teams are frustrated by demands to "fix the problem now", when it is clear that research needs to be done to get to the root of the problem.

It is also important to speak to colleagues and obtain each perspective before jumping to a conclusion. If you do not, you may create future resentment.

Work out a resolution based on your discoveries and stay composed when talking. It may be necessary to take a break before people are calm enough to discuss their issues rationally. Also, do not rush colleagues for answers; people are always more open if they believe you are receptive and interested.

The most important aspect of handling a potentially explosive situation is to find an acceptable way forward for all parties. Rusedski may have had a point in wanting the point replayed. This would have resulted in a situation where neither player was at a disadvantage. In the same way, ask yourself whether a compromise is possible.

Ultimately, do not dwell on the subject. Once the problem has been solved, move on. If this cannot be done, chances are the resolution was never found in the first place.

Julie Chambers is head of human resources at the Chartered Management Institute

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