Good leaders proactively manage conflict

Workplace conflict is a major cost and limitation for effective organisational performance.


CAUSES OF CONFLICT IN THE WORKPLACE

A recent GLOBAL HUMAN CAPITAL REPORT in 2008 found most conflict is observed between entry-level/front-line roles (cited by 34% of respondents), but significantly conflict also exists at the most senior levels: one in eight employees (12%) say that disagreements among their senior team are frequent or continual.

PRIMARY CAUSES

The study found the primary causes of workplace conflict, are seen as:

  1. Personality clashes and warring egos (49%)
  2. Followed by stress (34%) and,
  3. Heavy workloads (33%).

Culture also plays a part in the perception of causes.

In our experience the majority of ‘personality clashes’ are more due to mismatched styles of communication and not personality  incompatibility. We have found our influential communication tool THE INFLUENCE DIMENSIONS is effective in resolving most such conflicts.

Even more, stress and workload causes are clearly exacerbated by poor communication skills. Their impact is reduced through effective communication training.

A good leader would understand and explore management communication as a vital contributor to workplace conflict from all causes. Proactively they would register potential mismatched teams and develop them accordingly. They would pre consider stress times and hot spots and ensure influential communication was designed to minimise the conflict and pressure

COSTS

Unsurprisingly, poorly managed conflicts have a cost attached to them:

the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict.

One in six (16%) say a recent dispute escalated in duration and/or intensity.

Management time invested in conflicts starts too late in the process and is even more expensive time wasting, because the horse has already bolted.

A good leader has read the research and knows this data, plans for early intervention and swift follow up.

NEGATIVE OUTCOMES

The research found:

  • 27% of employees have seen conflict lead to personal attacks
  • 25% have seen it result in sickness or absence
  •  9% even saw it lead to a project failure.
  • 41% of employees think older people handle conflict most effectively, so life experience evidently helps people become more effective.

Time is Money. There are a variety of direct costs to the organization associated with poorly managed conflict, including, in the worst cases, the loss of customers and good employees. One that is visible to everyone is the time taken to successfully resolve issues. Time that would be better spent on accomplishing work and achieving goals is instead used to manage disagreements and smooth ruffled feathers, although where the outcome is wholly positive this might be seen as an investment.

A good leader knows about this impact on personal and organisational wellbeing.

She realises the long term future impact of a modest present conflict. She understand Senge’s principle: consequences may be separated in time and space.

Her interventions are immediate, insistent and assured.

LEADERSHIP

The skill of leaders in this regard is the key determinant.

The study found seven out of ten employees (70%) see managing conflict as

a “very” or “critically” important leadership skill, while 54% of employees think managers could handle disputes better by addressing underlying tensions before things go wrong.

Once again as study after study reveals the confirmation bias for leaders is still present. Managers think they handle conflict well.

A third of managers (31%) think they handle disagreements well, but only 22% of non-managers agree.

Furthermore, nearly half of non-managers (43%) think their bosses don’t deal with conflict as well as they should, compared to only 23% of managers who share this view.

SOLUTIONS

Training is the biggest driver for high-quality outcomes from conflict.

Less than half (44%) of all those questioned have received training in how to manage workplace conflict.

Where training does exist, it adds value: over 95% of people receiving training as part of leadership development or on formal external courses say that it helped them in some way. A quarter (27%) say it made them more comfortable and confident in managing disputes and 58% of those who have been trained say they now look for win–win outcomes from conflict.

FIVE WAYS FOR LEADING CONFLICT PROACTIVELY

  1. Preempt the three causes of workplace conflict
  2. Understand that influential communication is the most crucial preventive approach
  3. Realise the long term costs of unresolved conflict
  4. Accept most managers do not have the skill to manage conflict without assistance
  5. Utilise influential communication and conflict management training

Good leaders engage in these 5 ways.

The training is crucial. Do it.

We of course prefer you might use our Influence Dimensions communication tool and our Managing Difficult Conversations Masterclass.