Don’t be a hot head! 8 ways you can reduce conflict in the workplace.
No-one likes a hot head. Especially in the workplace. From passive aggressive eyebrow raising to overt bullying, bad tempers and bad dispositions can create enormous disharmony amongst your team and for us personally. The point is conflict takes two to happen. One to start it and the other to react.
What we do know from research on conflict in the workplace and the time and costs it has on business, is that it takes its toll. Between 30 to 50 per cent of management’s time can be spent in managing conflict in the work environment. Human resource executives can spend anywhere up to 20 percent of their time in activities revolving around conflict and litigation.
It’s not just time and money that impacts on a business when conflict arises the human factor is just as dramatically impacted upon. Sandberg reported over 10 years ago that unresolved conflict contributed to ‘staff absenteeism, attrition and litigation expenses; while low morale, productivity losses and impaired decision making are among the many hidden costs.’ He noted that severe conflicts can lead to the complete restructuring of teams if left or handled unsuccessfully. Yet, bullying and conflict still remain a huge problem for many work environments. We don’t seem to have found a real solution.
One reason is we often leave seeking help and coaching advice until things have escalated to the point of near no return. As Sandberg said, “Coaches use a powerful and empathetic questioning method that assists individuals to identify the triggers to conflict escalation and bring to the surface the assumptions inevitably held about the other party and the conflict itself.” If the problem doesn’t fix itself quickly, the outcome can have a huge impact on the workplace environment. Instead of waiting until a small problem has become a massive infraction, call in coaches to lead you through the process and out of the waste of time, money and human stress conflict causes.
The question is whose responsibility is it to resolve and prevent unnecessary conflict in the workplace? Is it ours, your work colleges or your bosses? Who should take the lead on creating a conflict free environment?
I’m very big on self-responsibility and ownership of how we act and interact in this world, which means, of course, let’s start with ourselves. If we focus on reducing conflict and putting out as many spot fires as we can, then our workplaces are bound to be happier, healthy and more productive places to work.
So here we go, see how many you already do and how many more conflict reducing strategies you can implement.
1. Be positive.
If you want to work in a more positive environment, you must be positive. It’s amazing how much of an effect a cheerful disposition can have on those around you and on the general atmosphere. In addition, a number of studies show that positive people are better placed to deal with stress, anxiety and challenges. This means you will be less likely to be drawn into other people’s negativity and game playing.
2. Be aware of personality clashes.
As in life, we often come across people who we don’t gel with. We don’t have to get along with everybody, but we do have to respect differences. If you don’t like someone’s personality type or you find it clashes with your own, acknowledge that is what is occurring. Avoiding certain individuals in the office won’t work, but you should certainly not become involved in other people’s disagreements, or start your own because of the clashes in personality. Register your frustration and talk to a trusted person to diffuse your feelings.
3. Communicate respectfully.
The old mantra of ‘treating people as you would like to be treated’ is a good tactic in avoiding workplace conflict. Asking people for their co-operation rather than giving instructions, enquiring about people’s weekends and thanking others for help they have given you will help you to maintain positive relationships with others. Understand that a demanding, entitled approach to conflict resolution will only decrease the chances of a good resolution. Don’t bitch, whine or gossip about the problem or personal. Use appropriate ways to find a starting point to talk. Seek help if you don’t know how to approach the situation.
4. Don’t get involved in emotional manipulation.
Some people are used to getting their own way by using emotions, be they anger, fear, guilt or histrionics. If they succeed in doing this in the workplace, it will cause resentment and lead to arguments or blame shifting. Highly emotive people may be dysregulated emotionally and that means unpredictable in a workplace. Be observant, people can be cunning and manipulate your sympathies if they need to build an army against someone or something. Be aware cliques in the workplace can be particularly damaging and can even result in dismissals if the environment becomes impossible. If anyone asks you to align yourself with them against others, simply say that you value working with everybody. Avoid being drawn into emotional battles that have nothing to do with you. Have empathy but think clearly about being the shoulder to cry on, particularly if you only hear half of the story. Don’t get emotionally ensnared by the drama king or queen at work.
5. Know what’s important
Disputes can grow from the smallest of issues. Something as inconsequential as taking someone else’s pen can escalate into accusations of poor work performance. Once you have an impression of a colleague from a particular incident, you will look for other examples, however small, to reinforce that opinion. One error or mistake, even a disagreement does not mean the working relationship needs to be erased. Resolve the problem with clarity and respect and then let it go. Avoid holding on to petty and insignificant slights.
6. Identify conflict
Dealing with a conflict at work can be tough. The aim is to compromise and be balanced in your expectations. Avoid believing you have a right to win, especially at the expense of working relationships you may just need to rely on later. Resolving conflict is better than trying to “win” because this helps people on both sides feel as though their concerns were valid and considered. Reaching fair compromises will help to eliminate stress that will ultimately lower productivity levels.
7. Find out reasons
Any environment where people are charged and emotionally invested in the events taking place, can be a perfect setting for conflict to happen. People are inevitably bound to have a disagreement on how things should be done which can lead to issues between those with differing opinions. If someone received a promotion or bonus it can lead to jealousy, particularly if others feel as though these benefits were earned unfairly. Disagreements in the workplace can also be personal. When you see the same people every day their habits can become irritating. If someone is messy, loud or confrontational it can make it difficult to focus on work. Define if the conflict is about business or personal? Is it a performance-based problem that is annoying you or a personal habit or presentation that irritates you? Think about the why your opinions are at odds with someone else. What merit does the other person have in their argument. Is there a way your reasons can be understood and worked through without butting heads? Why are you struggling to accept their version or reasons in the issue? Do you haev equally annoying habits you are unaware of?
8. Disagreement or bullying?
Frustration can quickly lead to disagreements. Disagreements become conflict . Conflict can easily shift into workplace bullying. According to Heads Up Healthy workplaces, signs of bullying in your work environment are if you or someone else experiences:
- distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
- physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
- reduced work performance
- loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
- depression and an increased risk of suicide.
Things you can do to help as an employee are:
- supporting your workmates – check in with your colleagues and let them know you’re there to help
- showing respect and courtesy – being respectful of others helps create a more positive environment
- speaking up against bullying (if you feel comfortable) – pull up anyone being disrespectful in the workplace
- acting appropriately – understand your organisation’s expectations and lead by example.
We all deserve the right to be free of accusations and temper tantrums at work. Think hard on how you can reduce the level of tension and conflict around you. If we all focused on building a happier workplace and followed these eight steps to avoid conflict, our time at work and with colleagues could be dramatically improved. Remember coaching can guide you and your team through the difficulties and prevent further issues arising.
Look out for the next 8 ways to avoid conflict in the workplace, part 2.