What is conflict in the workplace really costing you? Part 2

By April 1, 2012Uncategorized

In my last post, I left you with the formula for a quick and dirty formula for calculating a cost of managing workplace conflict.  This month, I would like to examine the different styles that people use to address conflict and how to deal with conflict in the workplace.  First let’s look again at the three top causes of conflict in the workplace:

  • Personality clashes – 49%
  • Stress – 34%
  • Heavy workloads – 33%
And one or more of the following factors may be present in a situation of conflict:
  • Poor leadership (considered to be the #1 factor in Canada and the UK)
  • Organizational deficiencies
  • Personality styles
  • Scarce resources
  • Conflicting values and interests
  • Lack of information
  • Lack of skills
  • and just plain old bad behavior
We can categorize workplace conflicts three ways, and we can see where the above factors might be seen:
  • Identity or relationship conflicts – personality differences, annoying behaviors etc.
  • Task conflicts – differing viewpoints on what a task or activity entails
  • Process conflicts – disagreement on how the task will be completed
Unresolved conflict is bound to escalate, and there are three critical phases that the problem will move through if not addressed.  In the first phase of a conflict, the parties involved are pretty much open to co-operating, if the conflict is recognized and discussed with an end to resolution.  When this doesn’t happen, we can watch the parties move towards behaviors we really don’t want present in the workplace.  And, let go long enough, the conflict can escalate to phase three, full blown confrontation.  While there are two broad reactions to conflict – the conflict averse person, and the person who enjoys combat and sees conflict as energizing, The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict model identifies five common styles for dealing with conflict:
  • Competitive – end result is achieving one’s own goal, regardless of the other parties position
  • Collaborative – this style requires and employs teamwork to resolve the conflict
  • Accommodating – one party capitulates, your win-lose scenario
  • Compromising – both parties make accommodations
  • Avoiding – this is just not doing anything at all, and it’s irritating and there is potential to escalate the conflict
Where we really want land is on collaborative resolution, through negotiation/mediation.  In the long run, it’s going to be the lowest cost solution, involving fewer people and fewer costs.  Where you never want to go, is to higher authority resolution, particularly litigation, which is going to involve the most people and the most costs, and there will definitely be a loser.
Dealing with conflict in the workplace is everybody’s accountability and there are strategies that organizations can employ, depending upon their needs:
  • Manager should receive training on conflict – how to recognize it, and what to do
  • Clarification on roles and responsibilities
  • Give employees a place to go for advice on managing conflict
  • Integrate a conflict competency into recruiting and embed it in job descriptions and role profiles (particularly for managers)
  • Hold managers and employees accountable for adhering to standards and values – be an organization that builds relationships among employees, and ensure the focus is on the problem and not the individual
Finally, I am reminded of the song from 1975 – War “Why can’t we be friends” http://youtu.be/5DmYLrxR0
Unfortunately life at work just isn’t that simple.
Good luck,



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