Conflict is almost inevitable in any workplace. Businesses are made up of teams, and teams are made up of people, and people come from different backgrounds and cultures. Therefore there will always be employees who simply do not get along from time to time. Whether it is because of differences in personalities, lifestyles, opinions, or any other factor, sometimes employees just cannot mesh. When it is left unresolved, the workplace can become a toxic environment affecting everybody, resulting in a negative impact on your business’s productivity and morale, and could even cause good employees to call it quits.
Photo by Bongkarn Thanyakij
The bottom line is that conflict is inherently expensive. Instead of working, it leads to employees participating, avoiding, or trying to manage meaningless discord with others. There was a study done on workplace conflict and found that employees spend an average of two hours a week simply dealing with differences. To make matters worse, 25% of employees questioned for the study said that workplace conflict led to sickness and absenteeism. 9% blamed conflict for outright project failure. 33% mentioned conflict led to employees leaving, either by quitting or by being fired. Let’s not forget the other costs, which may not be obvious, such as customers who notice the friction and complain or take their business elsewhere because of the war among your staff. Trained employees are expensive to replace, while lost customers and sales are irreplaceable.
Conflict resolution is an occurrence at work that can either propel or disrupt the momentum for a leader, a team, or the entire organization. Leaders must act responsibly to be respected; leadership is not a popularity contest. Many leaders would rather avoid tension to create the appearance of harmony. What they do not realize is that by avoiding tension all together they are unknowingly creating internal disruption amongst employees. A leader must be expected to neutralize or minimize conflict, not allow it to grow and run rampant. Managerial responsibilities such as to communicate effectively, respect employees, recognize office tension, and understand the importance of everyone in the office will help prevent a great amount of conflict. However, when it does arise, it is essential you handle it quickly, effectively, and thoroughly.
1. Nip it in the bud quickly
If you think you have no problems with conflict in your team, you are in denial. The first thing a leader needs to do is to identify a potential conflict. Watch for markers such as productivity and sales dwindling, employees exchanging shifts to avoid other specific employees or body language that indicates disdain or disrespect. Keep an eye on management; make sure every employee is treated fairly and equally by following the rules and guidelines effectively and reliably. Allow employees to alert you if there are problems with management and let them know they are taken seriously. Unfortunately, some situations may slip through, but if ignored, this “sideshow” will cause mayhem in the workplace.
2. Right timing
Conflicts are often created unnecessarily, but leaders who avoid conflict at all cost will find themselves regretting it later. Timing is everything when it comes to managing it. The best time to take action is when there is hard evidence that an employee has a track record of wrongdoing that is negatively impacting the performance of others. If everyone around you knows it must be dealt with, but you are still waiting to act, you are gradually losing the respect of your peers and those you lead. Leadership is about taking action and confronting the issues before it is too late. If you wait too long during times of adversity, others may see that you are not mature enough as a leader to act, putting your leadership at risk.
3. Let people share their view and listen
In circumstances which did not work themselves out and people are deeply upset, they need to get their perspective out. This is a basic principle of mediation and one that is important to remember. Yes, allowing people to speak their minds can increase the level of conflict that you must deal with. That is fine as you have to get through it to find the solution in any case. Sometimes, the feeling of finally “being heard” can dramatically change an angry person’s outlook. Before deciding whether to meet with the disagreeing parties together or separately, try evaluating the degree of hostility between them. Remember, you are there to discuss facts, not emotions. Additionally, as the employees tell their story, new information may come to light that allows a solution to emerge naturally. Whatever you do, do not take sides. This will only fan the flames and worsen matters. As a business leader, you need to be as objective as possible.