Conflict in the Workplace

When it comes to conflict, I can honestly say, over the past decade of being a manager I have seen and dealt with a lot of it.  I have seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of different scenarios and have assisted people with working through the conflict to reach a resolution. You could say conflict management is a large part of my job as a general manager.  During a normal work week I spend between 20-30% of my time identifying conflict and defusing it before it escalades into an out of control issue that can leave lasting consequences.

Most people believe conflict is bad within a company and it should be prevented. However, conflict is all around us, we all deal with it daily.  People like conflict; we verify this every time we turn on our televisions to the newest reality show. The longest running television series in America, according to Wikipedia, is Guiding Light at 18,262 episodes.  This is a show centered on conflict in a small group of people’s lives. If you are more of a reader than someone who likes television, when was the last time you read a good novel in which the main character did not face some type of conflict?  The truth is conflict is ingrained into our everyday lives. 

Is conflict always bad for a company? We are going to analyze conflict and what kind of outcomes it has within companies.  We will also cover some ways to work through conflict.

Before we dive deep into this topic lets define conflict. Dictionary.com defines conflict as a verb, “to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash.”   It can also be a noun; a fight or battle, quarrel, controversy.  Now with conflict defined, let’s discuss it.

Those who say conflict is bad for a company are partially correct; conflict can cost companies large sums of money, and their reputations, can negatively affect outcomes and can sometime lead to a company failing. When conflict is ignored and problems begin to arise from said conflict, problems will begin to surface. Some problems with conflict are that they involve personal attacks that can lead to hateful behaviors. Conflict doesn’t help organizations solve problems, it creates problems. Large amounts of bad conflict also create negative morale in companies that can lead to decreased production with a team, lowered performance level and poor attendance. 

There are a great deal of factors that can cause conflict such as:

-          age difference

-          preference

-          morals

-          maturity

-          methods of communication

-          misunderstandings

-          passion level or involvement for the job/task

-          interdependence conflict

-          gender

-          methods to obtain goals

Now that we can see some causes and outcomes that unaddressed conflict can have in the workplace let’s look at it in a different context. Conflict doesn’t always have to get out of control to the point that it becomes strictly emotional and starts tearing teams apart. Conflict can generate positive consequences as well as negative.  If conflict is effectively manage red it can result in:

-          A less stressful work environment

-          Increased morale

-          Increased loyalty to the company or cause

-          Lowered heath care cost

-          Team cohesion

-          Personal and professional growth

-          Increase in communication leading to new ideas that benefit the company

The best way to foster an environment with beneficial conflict is to learn to identify conflict between employees before it gets overly emotional for the employees. All conflict should be addressed as soon as it is noticed.  Your employees should always feel free to communicate ideas without reprimand or personal attack. 

If you have begun working in an environment filled with negative conflict personal mediation may be required of you.  As the mediator you have a very important role in conflict resolution. There are many things you will need to know to become a good mediator. 

-          No one is right or wrong. Both sides will have to give some for a successful resolution.

-          Get to the root cause for the conflict. The true reason for the conflict may not always be on the surface.

-          Set guidelines to establish you as the leader and to ensure there will be mutual respect and vulgar language is not used.

-          The most emotionally explosive time will be at the beginning of discussion. Once both sides have made their initial statement you will then be able to mediate the situation better.

-          Ensure only one person speaks at a time.

-          Be sincere, and listen with empathy.

-          Paraphrase what is said to display your involvement in the mediating and to show you have an understanding of what both parties are saying.

-          Focus on separating the persons from the facts.  Make the conversation about the facts, not the parties involved.

-          Ask open ended questions to encourage involvement.

-          Offer alternatives to the current situation to help correct the problem.

-          Make sure both sides buy into the solution. If one person is talking and the other is silent you need to be able to pick up on the fact that the silent party is not happy with the solution and you need to continue seeking alternatives. Without both sides buying into the action plan you will not have a favorable outcome.

-          Always follow up on the situation to ensure the agreed upon solution is working.

If you are able to perfect these skills it will be very beneficial in maintaining an environment with less negative conflict and more positive interactions. People will be able to see that you care about them and begin caring more for the business. Conflict can be damaging to a company if not properly managed.  When in a work place of motivated people there will always be some level of conflict. I would have to agree with the quote, “Show me a workplace without conflict and I’ll show you a workplace where no one gives a damn.” – Alexander Kjerulf

By Richard Dockins Business/Marketing Major IUPUC

1 Comment

  1. x204project said,

    April 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    As in most if not all speeches there are down falls, and great rises, some of the downfalls that were encountered in this blog were minimal, Such as using the word “I”, this is common in writing and is an easy fix if worked upon. The second downfall was using contractions, I am unaware whether using a contraction is blogs is allowed of not, but in most cases of writing it is not wanted.
    There were however many more great parts of the speech then downfalls. Richard used bullet points making it easier to track where he was talking about. He also used open ended questions so that he could involve the audience in the speech. Next he used pro’s and con’s so that everyone could see all aspects of conflict in the workplace so that they could make there own choice whether it was a good or a bad thing. Lastly he used a quote to end his blog off with a “bang”.


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