Conflict is a natural element of high-performing workplace teams. When conflict is managed well, it can be a highly effective means of identifying and resolving tough workplace challenges, often resulting in improved relationships and solutions. Avoiding conflict, discouraging it or allowing chronic unhealthy conflict to remain unresolved can be disastrous to organizational health. There are human and financial costs to conflict avoidance.
Organizations lose countless dollars each year to unresolved conflict in lost productivity, performance, employee turnover and absenteeism. Lost opportunity costs include the improvement or solution that might have resulted from creative collaboration (versus black holes that emerge when employees refuse to deal with each other). Morale also is affected — not only between participants but among people around them. People who are embroiled in conflict often are under great stress. Many report not sleeping well and being unable to focus at work.
Other costs to unresolved conflict:
- Miscommunication resulting from confusion or refusal to cooperate,
- Quality problems.
- Missed deadlines or delays.
- Increased stress among employees
- Reduced creative collaboration and team problem solving.
- Disruption to work flow.
- Decreased customer satisfaction.
- Split camps
As a manager or leader, if you are avoiding conflict, you aren’t alone. The majority of my clients are in the conflict-avoidance camp. Managing conflict effectively is daunting for even the most seasoned leaders. Unfortunately, for many managers, their answer is to avoid it, even if it means that the challenge or situation is allowed to fester at the expense of the organization.
In today’s team environment, healthy debate and difference is vital. It’s a necessary element of discovery and generating creative solutions to complex problems. Unfortunately the debate process can be uncomfortable for many people. We all have different comfort levels with conflict. Some easily get emotionally reactive, others quietly stew and others bow to the bullies — or those with internal political clout — in the room. Most of us learned how to fight fairly (or not) from our parents. A lucky few had great parental role models for conflict resolution and have the skills to foster collaboration and win-win scenarios. Most of us have to learn new strategies to convert workplace conflict into positive outcomes.
Personal experiences and learned behaviors establish our primary response toward conflict. To work through conflict effectively, start by identifying feelings. The potential for unprofessional reactions to workplace conflict results when we allow our emotions to rule us versus letting our emotions inform us. Being aware of your feelings is a good thing; emotions help us determine the importance of a situation. The danger is when individuals allow their extreme emotional reactions to drive their behavior. Being aware of one’s natural reactive tendency and being able to deploy self-soothing strategies can go a long way toward reducing emotional reactivity.
Teaching employees practical tools for dealing effectively with conflict, disagreement and difference is smart business. Many managers have never learned effective conflict-resolution tools and find great benefit from skill development and training in this area.
There are many useful approaches to dealing with workplace conflict that can be taught — through training, skilled intervention and mentoring and coaching.
But what if you are dealing with a truly difficult situation or are stuck in a conflict you just can’t seem to resolve?
First, acknowledge the conflict honestly. Just how damaging is the conflict? Identify costs, both realized and opportunity costs. Remember as the boss, you get what you tolerate. How far are you willing to let this go? For effective conflict resolution, the boss will need to play a critical role in establishing organizational expectations, including behavioral boundaries and consequences of meeting (or not meeting) those expectations.
Effective leaders create an environment that allows open and constructive exploration of conflict issues and avoid the “he said, she said” tendency. While some leaders have exceptional skill in managing through highly conflicted scenarios, others do not. In this case bringing in outside help can bring much-needed relief and resolution.
We all need help and support from time to time. Just like you call in a plumber for a stopped-up drain — there are specialist resources and conflict facilitators that will help in highly charged conflict scenarios.
Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities. I coach leaders all over the world via Skype. Call me: 360 682 5807 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org