Conflict in the workplace is disruptive, counterproductive and unavoidable, but as a manager, you can take proactive steps to minimize disputes and create a positive environment in which employees can excel.
Those are the conclusions of a study of workplace conflicts by Psychometrics Canada that identifies causes, effects and solutions. Psychometrics asked HR workers in Canadian organizations about their experiences and found that:
- 6 % say they always encounter conflict where they work;
- 31 % frequently do;
- 62 % occasionally do
- 1 % says they never experience workplace conflict.
The survey revealed that respondents could clearly identify five main causes of such conflict. Personality clashes and warring egos topped the list, followed by poor organizational leadership, a lack of openness and honesty, stress and a clash of values.
Businesses may pay a high price if they don’t address these underlying causes, with possible fallout ranging from employee turnover through resignations and firings and personal insults and attacks through to lost productivity due to illness and absenteeism. But, while 52 per cent of human resources professionals polled said they had received formal training in conflict management, only 12 per cent of employees had.
Nearly 70 per cent of respondents agreed that conflict management is ultimately everyone’s responsibility, but workers also indicated that they want managers to do more. And while more than 90 per cent specified that dispute mediation is a critically important or very important leadership skill, just 17 per cent saw management as being very effective or effective in dealing with conflict. When asked what managers could do to improve this situation, workers were forthcoming with several suggestions.
More than 80 per cent want managers to serve as calm, collected role models, and to identify and address sources of tension before they escalate. Three-quarters of respondents feel there’s a need for expectations to be more clearly defined, and for stricter management of “toxic” individuals. And at least half of them want managers to consult with them daily, to be better mediators, and to keep their egos out of disputes.
As the Psychometrics report indicated, “These findings suggest that leadership is important in resolving conflict but also plays a role in causing it.” The good news is that implementing sound management practices such as the following can go a long way towards diffusing or keeping workplace conflicts to a minimum.
- Intervene when conflicts erupt, but let emotions cool before taking further steps.
- Stay calm and listen. Let employees argue their point, and don’t let things get personal.
- Show empathy. Let workers know that you understand and will act to improve the situation.
- Verbalize the strengths that you see in the parties involved in conflicts. It’s hard for them to argue when you’re saying good things about them, and it lessens the tension.
- Speak in “I feel” terms, giving your interpretations of the situation but refraining from placing blame. Employees will be less defensive.
- Speak with confidence and authority. They’re effective and infective.
- Get input from the competing parties, offer solutions and make your decisions and expectations exceedingly clear.
Collaboration and compromise are important to the process, and the end results are invaluable: happier, more productive employees and a safer, more encouraging workplace.
It’s hard to argue with that!