The Sunday Times recently published an article about the major problems conflict can cause in the workplace, especially if avoided by managers and leaders. Studies have shown that up to 40% of an executive’s time is spent dealing with conflicts. Another study shows that more than 65% of performance problems result from difficult employee relationships. The ability to manage conflict can define a good and a bad leader.
We are all, by nature, emotional creatures, and it would be impossible to conceive that all differences between us could be avoided. The workplace breeds a climate rife for blowing conflicts out of proportion. It brings together so many different aspects of society – be it through differences in age, experience, upbringing or culture – and mixes them together in a close environment. To use a cooking analogy, rarely do recipes succeed when ingredients are randomly chosen and combined without forethought and careful planning! The resulting dish can certainly be unpalatable!
So how to do we ‘choose the correct ingredients’ and ‘mix them’ together for a successful recipe?
- Recognise that conflict exists and seek it out. By addressing it early it is possible to avoid an escalation. However don’t look for arguments for argument’s sake – analyse what is important and likely to impact on performance.
- Set the ground rules. There should be a clear understanding of what is acceptable behaviour.
- Effective communication. Clear, concise, accurate and timely communication of information will help ease both the number and severity of conflicts.
- Use empathy (a Schroder High Performance behaviour) to understand individual motivations and attitudes. Involved parties often have personal agendas that may conflict. Also remember what might seem trivial to one person, might be a source of stress to another.
- If possible, approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals. Always look for a win-win solution if possible.
- Identify the strengths of his individual team members and clearly communicate their roles and contributions towards a common goal.
- As we often discuss in our my360plus blogs, regular feedback is essential towards creating a more open and constructive working environment, with increased self-awareness. Openness in the workplace is a vital ingredient, essential for encouraging creativity, improving systems and making team members feel valued. If fear of conflict is acting as a barrier to this then productivity will be impacted. Recognise that differences in opinions are not always a negative.
- Have relationship and team building events. These are always valuable whether you are building a new team, integrating new members to an existing team, or need to refresh relationships within more established groups.
- Don’t put your head in the sand. Conflict rarely resolves itself and will normally escalate if not dealt with proactively and properly.
- Don’t get involved in the ‘drama’. Maintain neutrality and don’t tolerate self-serving behaviour.
Back to the cooking analogy – by quickly recognising when an ingredient is damaging the taste, it needs to quickly be removed, or counteracted with a remedy that removes the bad taste. Ignoring it may result in burnt offerings.