Managing Conflict in the Workplace
Bob Dylan wrote the song “The Times They Are A-Changin” as the title track of his 1964 album, an “anthem” of change for the time. Today we are reeling from COVID-19, civil unrest, Black Lives Matter, and as of May 2020, an unemployment rate that has risen above 14 percent. In the year 2020, we are still dealing with racism, sexism, inequities in wage, housing, and representation. Many articles are being written today that speak to all these issues. I want to focus on what you can do—one person in the organization.
Through it all, one thing remains the same. Change is inevitable, and growth is optional. Change starts with each of us. While we look at what is happening in the world, our federal, state, local governments, and neighborhoods, we should take this time to look inside and decide on the change we can make. If we want to address the conflict we see, let us start with the ones we see and deal with at work.
Conflict is everywhere. Before COVID 19, frequent conflicts occurred nearly 50% of the time in the top three business sectors (Charity/Not for Profit, Human Resources, Restaurants/Catering.) Since COVID 19, we have yet to quantify those numbers, but it is safe to assume that working remotely in the wake of the pandemic and the current civil unrest, those numbers have increased dramatically.
What causes conflict:
- Personality differences
- Heavy Workloads
- Limited resources
- Poor leadership
- Unclear role definitions
- Lack of honesty
- Just Because I do not like her/him
How do the causes of conflict affect an organization? Think about the questions below:
- Wasted time – How much will it cost your organization to address a conflict that includes three staff members earning $50,000 a year or more?
- Reduced quality – What happens to the critical decision–making skills of the staff members while they are engaged in the conflict? Is it possible product quality and quantity could be affected?
- Restructuring – Why are “those“ creating the conflict moved to other departments, promoted, or terminated? Is that just easier? What does it cost the organization to retrain? How much less could that number be if the disputes were addressed head–on?
- Motivation – Or the lack thereof. If the conflict cannot be addressed, why should I be motivated to do the job?
- Lost work time – Caused by illness and attitudes that say I do not want or “feel“ like going to work. Why do staff members use this method to avoid conflict?
- Health costs –How much have the organization‘s insurance premiums increase due to higher workmen‘s compensation and stress–related health claims?
Conflict is unavoidable; it drains people emotionally, financially, and creates mountains of stress. BUT attending to the conflict can be the tool that helps you improve team communication while creating an inviting workplace where people want to connect and work towards a common goal.
SO, what can you do to manage conflict in the workplace?
- DECIDE – Don‘t continue to allow conflict to cost you money. Create a high trust organization where conflict is recognized as inevitable and an opportunity for progress and innovation.
- BE WILLING – To calculate the cost. There are real costs associated with unresolved conflict. You know the one that you are unwilling or unable to turn into a positive result.
- YOU DO NOT WANT LITIGATION! Twenty years ago, the cost of litigation started at $100,000. Today it starts at $1,000,000.
- BE OPEN – To change.
- TRAIN YOURSELF – Understand your conflict style. Yes, each of us has a “way“ we deal with conflict. Figure out your way!
- TRAIN YOUR STAFF – Understand their conflict style.
- TO WIN – Use conflict as an asset, not a bottom-line drain.
As Joel Peterson, Chairman of Jet Blue, says conflict is good! The difference between conflict in a dysfunctional company and a high trust organization, is how people deal with conflict. What is a high trust organization? It is an organization of high trust; problems are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
SO, the question to ask is what type of company do you represent? Are you managing conflict in the workplace effectively?