Conflict has been known to be responsible for the majority of work performance problems. Many leaders and managers spend an inordinate amount of their work day dealing with conflict-related issues ranging from back-stabbing, sabotage to gossip. The Ghanaian work culture of gossiping has its drawbacks and this has seeped into the general workplace culture. So how do we as leaders deal with conflict in an effective and efficient manner in order to consolidate our teams rather than disintegrate them?
In this article we will look at workplace conflict, the impact it has on leaders and their teams and strategic measures we can use to mitigate its permeation in the organization’s culture.
Conflict can occur in virtually any team when employees with different backgrounds and priorities work together. Conflict can be expressed in various ways such as insults, non-cooperation, bullying and anger. Its causes can range from personality clashes and misunderstood communication to organizational mismanagement. The negative effects of workplace conflict can include work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failure, absenteeism, high employee turnover and termination.
Experts offer several causes of workplace conflict, including: personality differences, workplace behaviors regarded by some co-workers as irritating, unmet needs in the workplace, perceived inequities of resources, un-clarified roles in the workplace, competing job duties or poor implementation of a job description – for example, placing a non-supervisory employee in an unofficial position of “supervising” another employee, a systemic circumstance such as a workforce slowdown, a merger or acquisition, or a reduction in force, mismanagement of organizational change and transition, poor communication, including misunderstood remarks and comments taken out of context; and differences over work methods or goals or differences in perspectives attributable to age, sex or upbringing.
A study conducted by CPP Inc. entitled, “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” found that employees spend nearly three hours per week dealing with conflict in the workplace. This equates to approximately $359 billion in paid hours or 385 million work days annually. That is a lot of money to invest in unproductive time.
The study also found that 85% of employees dealt with conflict on the job. The primary causes of workplace conflict were personality clashes and warring egos (49%), followed by stress (34%) and heavy workloads (33%). Situations of conflict usually do not go away on their own and will escalate. In my years of experience managing teams of varied sizes and employees from all walks of life, I know the impact conflict can have on productivity and how as leaders we need to be very tactful and strategic in handling work conflict so that we do not run the risk of creating more rifts between our teams.
Emotional stress can be both a cause and an effect of workplace conflict. According to Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, 25 percent of employees surveyed in 1998 reported being treated rudely at work at least once a week, that figure rose to 55 percent in 2011 and 62 percent in 2016.
A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that four in 10 employees reported having experienced some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year. Most of that conflict is between an employee and his or her line manager. The survey also found that employees are more likely to report that they have experienced conflict with a staff member who is more senior to them.
Workplace conflict is inevitable but with the right structures in place can be quickly mitigated. How well we manage conflicts amongst our team is crucial to the success of our company and the success of our leadership tenure as well.
Here are my thoughts on 4 strategies leaders and entrepreneurs can consider in managing workplace conflict.
- Written rules, policies and agreements
Employees should understand how workplace conflicts will be resolved. As leaders, our organizations must communicate their expectations typically via an employee handbook, HR policies, and written contracts and agreements with certain high-level individuals.
Written HR policies are essential to provide guidance to managers and employees on how conflicts and other issues should be handled. Such policies include any formal mechanisms in place to help employees resolve differences and provisions to prohibit retaliation against employees who raise concerns. Agreements and contracts with key executives should be designed to ensure a common understanding about the employment relationship. Such contracts may include a requirement that binding arbitration—rather than potentially more costly litigation—be used for resolving employment-related disputes.
- Effective management
Conflicts have a better chance of being managed quickly and successfully when an organization has a strong leadership team in place. We will certainly experience damaged employee relations when we allow poor behavior from employees or ignore workplace bullies. An effective management team is imperative in preventing slippage in employee morale and increases in turnover.
- Careful hiring
A key strategy to avoid employee relations problems is to make sure the organization’s hiring process embodies good interviewing skills and selection procedures and pre-employment screening, including a background investigation. Just as the requisite experience and education are key in hiring, so are demeanor and communication style, which can suggest whether a job candidate would be a “good fit” for the organization. A company’s culture can have a significant impact on whether a candidate is likely to succeed within the organization.
- Conflict Resolution Techniques
Finally, after taking all the precautionary steps listed in the first three strategies, when conflict inevitably happens, we as leaders can also use numerous conflict resolution techniques available to us to help address it like:
- Facilitation: A neutral employee in the organization—often an employee relations manager—acts as a facilitator, not to judge the merits of the dispute or to render a final decision, but to help both sides decide the best way to settle the dispute.
- Mediation: A mediator is a neutral third party who helps the conflicting parties explore innovative solutions to their dispute. Mediators can be internal employees trained in conflict management and mediation, or they can be trained external professionals who have no perceived conflict of interest with the employer. Resolving a dispute through mediation should be voluntary.
- Arbitration: This is typically the most formal, costly and time-consuming method of resolving disputes. Witnesses may be presented and cross-examined, and an arbitrator issues a binding decision.
Managing conflict is an extremely challenging area for us leaders, but it comes with the job. Our willingness to appropriately intervene sets the stage for our own success. Although it is challenging, it can be extremely rewarding also. The great thing is, the more you do it, the better you get at it. It is another attribute that we can add to our skill set and an excellent addition to our personal development journey.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group & Allure Africa.
She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017. She has also been featured on CNN.
She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.