“Conflict is defined as a situation in which a disagreement or opposition between two or more parties arises as a result of incompatible goals, emotions, behaviours and attitudes” (http://buildmybiz.com/material/conflict-resolution-importance/)
Contrary to popular believe, conflict is not always a bad thing in the workplace. Functional conflict – which is the good kind of conflict – has positive outcomes such as improved creativity and performance. In most cases though conflict is dysfunctional and will have the opposite effect whereby it reduces productivity and employee morale by damaging group cohesion, promoting hostility among the concerned parties and creating a negative work environment. What differentiates the two kinds of conflicts is conflict management. When performed well, the results of conflict will be positive but when done poorly, the results could be detrimental to business performance.
The source of conflict
Most unwanted conflicts come as a result of employees not seeing eye-to-eye on work related issues or sometimes over personal issues. And with the ever increasing diversity in a workforce that results from activities such as people migrating from different parts of the country or world, younger and older generations working together etc then individual differences will inevitably come to fore. The days when employers could create an army of homogenous employees by de-emphasising individual differences are long gone. Nowadays employees are encouraged to carry their differences and personalities to work.
It is these individual differences that will lead to conflict when employees with contrasting and even subtle differences in attitudes, opinions and personalities clash within the workplace. It is crucial that managers are well versed in conflict management to ensure that employee friction does not cripple the organisation. Hence the need for conflict management training.
According to the Conflict Solutions Center 30 – 40% of a manager’s and supervisor’s daily work involves dealing with conflict. So if it’s such a crucial part of everyday management it’s only logical to equip your management team with the proper tools – in terms of skill and know-how – to deal with these kind of situations effectively. (Source: http://www.cscsb.org/mediation/cost_of_conflict.html)
The cost of conflict
To get a better understanding of just how important conflict resolution is to an organisation, let’s take a look at the cost of conflict in the workplace.
- Wasted time. When people are delaying outcomes and avoiding each other, a lot of time will be wasted. And as they say: time is money. The longer the conflict remains unresolved, the more time will be wasted.
- Stress. Conflict within the organisation causes frustration among staff especially when they feel as if a solution might not be reached, or their opinions go unrecognised by other members of the group. As a result, employees become stressed, which adversely affects both their professional and personal lives. Staff members will start avoiding meetings and sometimes avoid coming to work to avoid stressful situations. Source: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/costs-associated-with-conflict-in-the-workplace.html )
- Reduced productivity. Conflict distracts employees from the core objectives they are tasked with achieving. When a conflict arises in the workplace, employees will focus less on their work and more on venting about frustrations and gossiping about the ongoing conflict. The dip in productivity will eventually have a toll on profitability.
- Employee turnover. Increasing frustration as a result of conflict within an organisation often reaches a point where employees feel like there is no solution other than to leave. This can be extremely costly when the people leaving are some of your most talented workers. This will have a direct negative impact on production due to the skill gaps created by the leaving staff. Other costs related to employee turnover include reduced morale for the remaining employees, recruitment costs and decreased customer service. Source: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/effects-conflict-within-organization-164.html
- It affects communication. Teamwork is crucial to the success of an organisation and without proper communication, people cannot work together. Conflict can hurt honest and effective communication and can lead some employees to become fearful to communicate. A common result of conflict is the formation of cliques around the concerned parties with supporters of each side avoiding talking to each other. A breakdown in communication creates an atmosphere of unhealthy competition and mutual distrust which will suck the lifeblood out of the business. (Source: http://woman.thenest.com/consequences-conflict-workplace-12029.html)
Although conflict itself cannot be avoided, the negative effects it could have on a business can be mitigated using conflict management strategies. Conflict management requires leadership skills, decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities which can all be acquired through training.
Tips for conflict management
To help you effectively manage conflict in your company, here are a few tips you could use:
- Always act immediately. Postponing conflict resolution will only cause the situation to escalate. The more the situation escalates, the harder it will be to reconcile the concerned parties. Make sure that conflicts are managed as soon as they are noticed.
- Listen to all parties separately. Pull each of the involved parties aside and listen to their side of the story so as to gain a full understanding of the underlying factors. It is only by doing so can you know how to move forward.
- Get the involved parties together. Arrange a meeting with all the involved parties and discuss the issue. Give each person a chance to be heard. You will be surprised by the number of conflicts that arise due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. By giving people a platform to communicate, many conflicts will be resolved.
- Be impartial. As a leader, you cannot be biased or seem to be biased towards a particular party. If there is any risk of this happening, you’d be better off calling in a neutral mediator who can assess the situation from a midpoint and come up with a fair and reasonable solution.
By providing conflict management training for your managers, you will be preparing them to handle a problem that arises a lot and that could have a serious effect on the success of your business.