Here is the truth - wherever two or more are gathered, there will be conflict.
Workplace Conflict. It’s inevitable. In fact, research shows that on average 42% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with interpersonal conflict. If that manager is making $85,000 per year, your organization has lost $35,700 due to conflict, from that manager’s work alone. Conflict in the workplace can occur between two or more individuals, between departments, among leadership and even between your staff and between customers or vendors.
We know that conflict in the workplace will happen, and that it is often useful, leading to personal and professional growth, and progress toward important organizational initiatives. Conflict itself does not need to be avoided, and in fact it can be a vehicle for development. Yet when conflict festers, and is not effectively managed, it can create feelings of resentment and can produce toxic behaviors, which interfere with morale and productivity. When this happens to otherwise highly efficient and high performing people, the workplace is ultimately compromised.
In our experience, we know that what is most important is to not eliminate organizational conflict altogether (which is virtually impossible) but rather to look at how conflict is managed and addressed. The goal with any conflict resolution process is - through a facilitated discussion process - to enable a move from anger and resentment (which focuses on the past) to ideas and action, which ultimately create a better future for everyone. These exchanges are what we call candid conflict conversations.
Following are several recommended approaches for organizational leaders to consider when conflict seems to be negatively influencing your team and work environment, and you would like to move toward a more productive and effective dialogue.
Conflict between individuals:
- coaching process allows individuals to confidentially discuss issues and explore ways to approach the conflict themselves. We’ve learned that the first “issue” presented is usually not the problem, but rather one’s own denial or lack of confidence in addressing the conflict. Coaching allows individuals to uncover what is “beneath” the surface, overcome barriers, and more confidently address the conflict situation with concrete actions. Managers, supervisors, and HR professionals can serve as coaches; professionals in organizational development with backgrounds in conflict resolution can also be highly effective in working with individuals for whom conflict is an issue.
- Mediation is a process in which disputing parties meet (virtually or in person) with a neutral third party, a trained mediator, to work toward their own agreement. Team or business-related disputes between employees and others have found mediation to be an effective tool to address many issues. Mediation works with single-issue disputes as well as complex, multi-party conflict and has been shown to be a highly effective process.
- Research shows that there are five key dysfunctions that all teams have to a certain degree, and the inability to resolve conflict is one of these key dysfunctions. It is often the fear of conflict – typically exhibited by the leader – that makes it so difficult for teams to move through and past conflict. In these cases, utilizing a mediation professional that can work with teams to surface and discuss issues in a respectful manner and identify actions to build trust and hold each other mutually accountable can be a useful approach, and can help set the groundwork for managing future team conflict.
- increases self-awareness around conflict behaviors and helps participants strategize how to effectively respond to the uncomfortable and unavoidable challenges of workplace conflict. This training can be augmented by using assessments (like the DiSC) to provide personal insights into each participant’s own temperament, and then pairing this information with the proven science of cognitive behavioral theory to help participants recognize and transform their destructive habits into more productive responses.