Let’s face it. With workplace conflict being the number one cause of stress, absenteeism, turnover and lost productivity, we could all stand to be a little happier at work.
Conflict in the Workplace is Inevitable, Normal and Natural. The problem is that some folks are easier to get along with than others. And it’s only natural that any workplace that employs a group of people will result in conflict arising out of unmet expectations and differences in values, opinions and ideas around what needs to be done, how it gets done, and, most critically, how this is communicated within your team.
But How Much Conflict is Acceptable?
It is estimated that the average worker spends between two and six hours per week dealing with workplace conflict. If every employee in an organization is doing this, it’s not hard to see how hard-earned values and culture can quickly erode, obliterating even the most thriving of organizations.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency by too many owners and managers to stick their head in the sand, letting others ‘work things out’, or simply waiting for the passage of time to ease hurt feelings. This results in employees burying wounds, nurturing undealt with resentments, and that equates to highly toxic passive-aggressive behavior.
Astonishing Facts of Workplace Conflict
Surprising only 3% of workplace conflict comes from personality or cultural differences. The major sources come from, opposing priorities, lack of communication, and misunderstandings about urgent tasks.
Research undertaken by software firm, Workfront, indicates 63% of employees say conflict is created by there being too many cooks in the kitchen and 64% are confused about who’s doing what. 81% of workers experience conflict with other departments, with company leaders and IT at the top of their list.
Common Behaviours Causing Workplace Conflict
- Weak Leadership
- Lack of Recognition and/or Direction
- Substandard Hiring Practices
- Co-worker Bullying or Harassment
- Below Market Pay Rates
- Lack of Communication
- Unhealthy Competition
- Poor Performance by a Co-worker
- Gender or Racial Prejudice
- Playing Favorites
- Conflicting Priorities
- Office Romance
“The fish stinks first at the head” is an old Turkish proverb meaning that if the servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so.
Failure to take the necessary action put a stop to workplace conflict, and thereby sustain a productive workforce, is the number one indicator of weak leadership and potential for business failure. The outfall of conflict-driven stress resulting in resignations, absenteeism and reduced productivity leads the list for failed business causes. This makes conflict management absolutely critical.
How Not to Deal With Workplace Conflict
- Avoiding: Staying clear of the source is only a temporary fix and can interfere with your performance.
- Denying: ‘Sticking your head in the sand’, will not make the conflict disappear.
- Confronting: Having it out with the person is akin to bullying
- Over-compromising: saying yes too easily and forfeiting your voice or opinion
- Accommodating: Surrendering our needs, over-eager to please the other person.
- Competing: breaks down the team and creates an atmosphere of ‘may the best person win’.
- Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Saying you agree then behaving counter-productively has never served anyone well.
12 Ways to Quickly Resolve Your Workplace Conflict
There is just no way around it. Respect is earned. Leaders must remember this. Naturally collaboration and compromise are the best processes to put to work here. Use these tips designed to help you move your conflict resolution towards successful closure.
- Don’t Procrastinate. – Resolving conflicts often means hitting them head on and not letting sore feelings linger. Clearly articulate your understanding of the causes of the conflict.
- Remember Station WIFM. – It is the world’s most popular radio station for very good reason. Tell the other person why you want to resolve the conflict and give them reasons that demonstrate there is clear benefit for them to work things out with you.
- Stand in Your Shoes. – Admitting your part in what took place and apologizing will go a long way to softening things up between you and the other person.
- Eat a Little Crow. – Although the very prospect of it may freeze you in your tracks, studies have proven that being humble and showing vulnerability actually doesn’t kill you. Rather it may well be one of the best things you can do for all of your relationships.
- Accept Your Differences. – Relationships break down in the workplace for one primary reason – unmet expectations. This is more often than not a direct result of miscommunication. Acknowledge with the other person that you appreciate that you each have your own perceptions and that there really is no right or wrong. Just different.
- Don’t Assume. – Propose ideas and outline behavioural changes that you would like to see to resolve the conflict. Spend the time to identify and understand the natural tensions between the two of you so you can talk about this and help to prevent unnecessary conflict in the future. Then define what you feel are acceptable behaviours.
- Don’t Hit Send. – Be sure you are dealing with the other person face to face, or if that is not possible then on the phone. Email and other forms of written communication to often fall prey to having your tone be dangerously misinterpreted, especially when tensions are high.
- Stick to the Issues. – Don’t stray from the specific behaviours and incidents that have caused the misunderstanding. It takes work and discipline to identify and then stick to the real issues when you’re ‘in it’.
- Look for the Cause. – Often unacceptable behaviours – chronic tardiness, absenteeism, inattention and errors- are symptoms of an underlying chronic issues (addiction) or personal issue (jealousy around favoritism). Empathy and sincerity go a long way here.
- How Important Is It? – Admittedly some of us are ‘pricklier’ than others. Wearing our emotions on our sleeves make us more prone to defensive behaviours, sometimes conflict feels like the only way we can solve our uncomfortable feelings. Stop. Think to yourself, “is this really the hill I chooseto die on?”
- Call a Time Out. – In resolving conflict our emotions may interfere with arriving at a productive resolution. If this happens, take a time-out and set a date to resume.
- See Conflict as Opportunity. – Talk about silver linings. I learn so much interviewing candidates about how they handle conflict in their workplace. By asking them who was involved, what happened, and what the outcome was, I get to hear stories of inspiration and courage. More often than not you and the other person be end up becoming good friends or at the very least much stronger working partners.
Left unresolved, conflict can have deadly consequences on your business. A positive resolution is always the ultimate goal in resolving conflict, but it doesn’t always happen overnight or as quickly as we’d like it to. Putting a plan in place will help you to feel empowered, and that there is a logical method in place, putting your workplace madness to bed once and for all.
Barbara Ashton is the founder and CEO of Ashton & Associates, a leading executive search and recruitment firm serving Employers of Choice throughout the Okanagan and BC Interior.
Ashton & Associates Recruiting… Placing Powerful People. Every Time.
Thank you for visiting our blog post. Ashton & Associates Recruiting is always adding new and relevant advice to our stock of resources for both job seekers and those looking to hire.
Follow Ashton & Associates on Linkedin and be the first to know about key jobs and opportunities in the BC Interior and Okanagan.
This post has been approved for public release by Barbara Ashton. All certified posts carry this Google Authorship link to Google.