Conflict in the Workplace: Manage-Mediate-Resolve…

“Over two-thirds of managers spend more than ten percent of their time handling workplace conflict and forty-four percent of managers spend more than twenty percent of their time on conflict-related issues.” ~ Craig Runde, Center for Creative Leadership

Conflict in the work environment is inevitable. When two or more people have to work together and combine ideas, the doorway of conflict is ever open. The goal is to learn how to use conflict as a tool that can benefit the whole, rather than destroy it… A team must have a common goal of success (Temme and Katzel, 1995). Several strategies have proven to be beneficial tools when resolving destructive conflicts…

In the article “Conflict in the Workplace” by Mary Rau-Foster writes: Our ability to accomplish goals and objectives depends on the cooperation and assistance of others, which increases the opportunity for conflict. No one person can do the job without the input of someone else… When the other person is late, has different priorities, misunderstands directions, or is playing office politics, conflicts are created.

The issue of “personality clashes” is controversial.  The two types of workplace conflicts are “when people’s ideas, decisions or actions relating directly to the job are in opposition, or when two people just don’t get along.” Turner and Weed argue, “In a conflict situation, don’t ask ‘who’; ask ‘what’ and ‘why’…

In the article “Understanding Conflict in the Workplace  by Julie Gatlin, Allen Wysocki, and Karl Kepner write: Although conflict is often viewed negatively, it can lead to enlightenment if solutions are reached. The first logical steps in resolving conflict is to identify the problem and then identify what caused the conflict. Art Bell suggests six reasons for conflict in the workplace: conflicting needs, conflicting styles, conflicting perceptions, conflicting goals, conflicting pressures, and conflicting roles. Brett Hart  discusses two addition causes of conflict: different personal values and unpredictable policies…

The next time a conflict occurs, take a moment and ask yourself these questions:  What may be the cause of the conflict? How do others perceive the situation? Is the conflict over differing personal values? Is there a clear company policy about the situation? Once a cause is established, it is easier to choose the best strategy to resolve the conflict…

In the article “Conflict in the Workplace” by Dr. David G. Javitch writes: Can conflict ever be a good thing? The word “conflict,” usually conjures up negative associations, such as arguments, hatred, anger, hurt feelings, distrust and more. But what is conflict and how does it impact worker performance? Stephen Robbins, author of “Organizational Behavior”, defines conflict as; “A process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected or is about to negatively affect something the first party cares about.”

Conflict is natural and occurs in every organization. The process of engaging in conflict doesn’t have to be negative, counterproductive; it all depends on how you view the tension that gets created and what you do with it… Shakespeare once wrote that, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This means that conflict in itself is neither good nor bad. But when we add our own experiences to conflict or tension, we give it a positive or negative value…

In the article “Workplace Conflict Resolution: People Management Tips” by Susan M. Heathfield writes: Organization leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive. If turf wars, disagreements and differences of opinion escalate into interpersonal conflict, you must intervene immediately. Not intervening is not an option if you value your organization and your positive culture. In conflict-ridden situations, your mediation skill and interventions are critical…

In the article “Resolving Workplace Conflict: 4 Ways to a Win-Win Solution” by Dr. Tony Fiore writes: The effects of conflict in the workplace are widespread and costly. Its prevalence, as indicated by three serious studies, shows that 24-60% of management time and energy is spent dealing with anger. This leads to decreased productivity, increased stress among employees, hampered performance, high turnover rate, absenteeism and at its worst, violence and death.

There are four specific steps managers can take to reduce workplace conflict. Teach communication skills; beef up listening skills; establish healthy boundaries; develop emotional intelligence; explain behavioral consequences for unacceptable behavior…

In the article “Handling Conflict in the Workplace” by Gray Pilgrim writes:  Most of the conflicts in the workplace can be resolved with just reaching out to the other person and communicating frankly. Yelling is not at all advised. Instead, state facts and make him/her realize how their behavior is adversely affecting your work; calmly. Handling conflict is a delicate matter, and needs to be done tactfully: Think Win/Win; Respect Each Other; Listen to Each Other: Choose Words Carefully: Let your Work Speak for Itself.

In the article “Nine-step Process for Resolving Workplace Conflict” by Adrian Groenewald, Moditure Consulting, writes: Workplace conflict and relationship problems can arise as the result of clashing personalities, miscommunication, perceived backbiting, or a perception of hidden agendas… The ability to manage conflict is a critical skill in the workplace, and has been identified as a core competency for managers and leaders at all levels. It is ironic, therefore, that companies hesitate to invest time and money in improving employees’ conflict management abilities when the cost of conflict in financial and other terms can be enormous

In the article “Risky Conflict Resolution” by Kenneth Cloke, Joan Goldsmith writes: Every conflict, without exception, creates an unparalleled opportunity to wake up. It increases our awareness of what is actually happening around us and teaches us how to become more skillful and successful in our communications and relationships. It allows us to understand and discuss, and learn from our differences, and to recognize that each of our conflicts offers us a unique opportunity to turn our lives around. Conflict is a valuable personal and organizational resource and a powerful source of learning, development and growth…

“What people often mean by getting rid of conflict is getting rid of diversity, and it is of the utmost importance that these should not be considered the same. We may wish to abolish conflict, but we cannot get rid of diversity. Fear of difference is dread of life itself. It is possible to conceive conflict as not necessarily a wasteful outbreak of incompatibilities, but a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned.” ~ Mary Parker Follett, noted social worker and management consultant.

In the article “Listening & Conflict in the Workplace” by Oubria Tronshaw, eHow Contributor, writes: Individuals involved in arguments often have different ideas about what they’re fighting about; the simple act of agreeing on the cause of the tension can go a long way toward solving the problem because it helps everyone involved view the situation from another person’s perspective. As the problem is being aired, colleagues must engage in active listening. This means clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, making eye contact with the person speaking, not interrupting, and using body language such as nodding thoughtfully and leaning in to signal respectful attention…

After actively listening to each other state their grievances, colleagues should ask questions in an attempt to solve the conflict. Questions such as “How do you feel I could have handled this situation better?” or “How do you suggest we avoid issues like this in the future?” work well. Creating an environment of collaborative problem solving can help eliminate future conflicts…

In the article “The Cost of Conflict in the Workplace” by James A. Cram and Richard K. MacWilliams, Cramby River Consultants, write: Unresolved conflict can create serious and quite varied consequences. In fact, some experts believe that unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized (Dana 1999, Slaikev and Hasson 1998)… A reduction in productivity of disputants and their peers is one of the more serious consequences of unresolved conflict. A loss of simple productivity of 25% reduces an average work week to fewer than 20 hours…

Managers and executives often fail to recognize what constitutes real conflict in their organizations and simply are not aware of the symptoms of conflict and the resolution strategies that are available to them. Because of a general discomfort in dealing with issues involving strong emotions, some managers won’t intervene unless situations go to extremes or will ignore the conflict fearing that if they intervene, they assume responsibility for the resolution…

In his book “Functions of Social Conflict”, Lewis A. Coser, writes: “Far from being necessarily dysfunctional, a certain degree of conflict is an essential element in group formation and the persistence of group life”. In fact, conflict can be a powerful force in the creation of ideas, novel solutions and group energy. It isn’t conflict itself that creates problems and increased cost, but rather an inability or unwillingness to address it in timely and intelligent ways…

In the article “When Conflict in the Workplace Escalates to Emotional Abuse” by Noa V. Davenport writes: Millions of men and women of all ages, ethnic, and racial backgrounds all across the U.S. hate going to work, and gradually fall into despair and often become gravely ill. “Every day was like going into battle. I was afraid to trust anyone for fear they were the enemy. I knew I had to have relief soon. But there was no letup,” said Diana when we asked how she felt each day. What is going on? Why is this happening? How prevalent is this? What can be done?

What we are describing here has been identified as “mobbing” and “bullying” at the workplace. Co-workers, superiors or subordinates, attack a person’s dignity, integrity and competence, repeatedly, over a number of weeks, months or even years. A person is being subjected to emotional abuse, subtly or bluntly, often falsely accused of wrongdoing, and is persistently humiliated.

Dr. Heinz Leymann, a psychologist and medical scientist, pioneered the research about this workplace issue in Sweden in the early 80ties. Leymann identified some 45 typical mobbing behaviors such as withholding information, isolation, badmouthing, constant criticism, circulation of unfounded rumors, ridicule, yelling, etc.

Mobbing–the emotional abuse–is a form of violence, and often starts as a conflict… In 1991 C. Brady Wilson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in workplace trauma, wrote in the Personnel Journal (now Workforce Magazine) that real or perceived abuse of employees amounted to a loss of billions of dollars:

“Workplace trauma, as psychologists refer to the condition caused by employee abuse, is emerging as a more crippling and devastating problem for employees and employers alike than all the other work-related stresses put together.” Dr. Harvey Hornstein, professor of social-organizational psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, in his book “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey”, estimated that as many as 20 million Americans face workplace abuse on a daily basis–a near epidemic…

In the article “How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace” by Glenn Magas writes:  Maintaining emotional control when you manage conflicts in the workplace is incredibly important but incredibly difficult. Learning anger management, knowing different ways to provide positive responses, and creating dialogue to discuss the issue while maintaining control can keep a conflict at work from escalating…

A conflict can encourage growth and awareness for the individuals involved as well. But the conflict should be turned into a productive dialogue of productivity and efficiency. This can create a win-win situation in the workplace and, if a conflict is unavoidable, create the possibilities of learning more and improving the workplace…

In the article “Managing Conflict in the Workplace with Martial Arts Thinking” by Butler writes: The Japanese martial art of aikido is built upon the idea that the power of harmony can be harnessed for nonviolent conflict resolution, not just the forceful self-defense typically associated with martial arts. “Aikido is about the process of unifying your mind, body and spirit to accomplish your goals,” Butler says. “When all the parts of you are in sync, then you reach a state of calm and harmony that enables you to see clearly, analyze a situation, and do what’s necessary.”

In the business world, the equivalent of this state goes by many names: inspired leadership, vision, intuitive decision-making. All express the harmony from which effective function, conflict resolution, and leadership flow. There’s a saying in aikido that every student learns early, Garza says. “Its masakatsu agatsu: “True victory is victory over self.”

In the article “Generational Conflict in the Workplace, the Issues Run Deep” by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research, writes: Turbulence across generations is not new, nor is it particularly new to the workplace. Pew Research suggests that Millennials (born 1980 to 2000) and Generation Xers (born 1965 to 1980) are more racially and culturally blended than preceding age groups; Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and Traditionalists (born roughly 1900 to 1945). These more ethnically diverse younger generations appear more comfortable with the global, multinational nature of the world in which we live…

With their contemporary outlook, Millennials and Gen Xers seem poised to take positions of power in the workplace. Boomers are far more likely to cite a “strong work ethic”; by contrast, “work ethic” does not even make Millennials’ top five lists of self-defining traits… “Respectful,” too, is high on the list of Boomer traits, but do not register among Millennials. In the midst of these potentially volatile differences, guidance and organization’s leadership is needed to help workers of different ages benefit from each other’s differences…

M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, talks about how conflict is essential in community. In fact, he says, for any group to go past the “polite” stage, they must enter into “chaos.” This chaos, or conflict, is the true grit in human relationships. It’s where people make known who they are and what their needs are (it’s no coincidence that people who fear conflict are often the same ones who aren’t skilled at getting their needs met)…

A world without conflict is a veneer world without possibility for depth. So, conflict isn’t the enemy. Begin to notice it and value it. Changing your attitude about conflict will help set the ideal stage to use effective conflict management skills.