Everyone likes to work for a kind, considerate, caring, professional supervisor and on a team where everyone is valued and aligned towards a common goal. Everyone looks out for one another and the overall goals of the firm. However, when negative employee conflict or disputes arise, and they are not addressed in a timely and in an appropriate manner this can cause a host of problems including lower productivity, lower morale, increased costs, and employee turnover. The question arises with what can you do to reduce and address employee conflict and reduce employee turnover? That is the focus of this article.
Conflict versus collaboration
Conflict in and of itself is not necessarily bad. If someone has a different perspective and elects to share that with you, this demonstrates an element of concern. The motive may be positive. The concern may be for you, the project, the organization, or other elements looking out for the greater good. On the other hand, conflict motivated by resentment, undo competition, the need to be better than you or other negative elements can be counterproductive. The attitude, motivation, and actions all matter. It is best if you can cultivate and promote positive conflict.
Unlike communication, which is simply dialogue between parties, collaboration involves two or more parties motivated by a common goal.
Clearly if everyone is on the same page working together towards a common goal this is the ideal of any workplace environment. However, we are all human and we all both make mistakes and at times gravitate towards personal interests looking out for self. When fear, greed, or personal self-esteem feels threatened, you tend to look out for self. How does this manifest itself in the workplace?
Some key statistics
In a thirty six page report from CPP Global Human Capital the authors found that “85% of employees have to deal with conflict to some degree and 29% do so always or frequently.” In “the US 36% also spend a significant amount of time managing disputes.” Primary causes are “personality clashes and warring egos (49%), followed by stress (34%), and heavy workloads (33%).” The average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict. “31% of managers think they handle disagreements well, but only 22% of non-managers agree.” 43% think their bosses don’t deal with conflict as well as they should.” “18% of employees said they witnessed people leaving their organization as a result of workplace conflict, while another 16% said conflict leads to employees being fired.”
What can you do?
Presenting to State CPA societies, organizations, and others on How to Hire, Train and Retain the Best People, I offer that it all starts with identifying what are the key skills needed, recruiting broadly for a diverse workforce, having a robust hiring and onboarding process, and providing affirming continuous and contemporary feed forward. That is
- Catch employees doing something right at least once a week and thank them for something specific.
- Provide employees with the resources they need from their perspective (technical, leadership, soft skills) and do not micromanage them.
- Give them a chance to shine in leadership and accomplishment.
Provide three type of mentors when the new person comes on board. These three skill sets are
- Someone to help technically with the job
- Someone who has the vision on where the firm is going and where this individual fits into that vision
- Someone who understands how to really get things done in the organization.
By being proactive, listening to your employees, and being there to help you will create an atmosphere oriented towards understanding and collaboration. Even with this conflicts will arise. So, what can you do when conflicts arise?
Apply the management by wondering around type of management. That is know your people. Understand their strengths and weaknesses. Know about their personal lives. What is happening in their lives? When a small conflict arises, look into the underlying conditions. Behind every position is at least one interest. Interests hold the seeds to a solution. Knowing this taking preventative action is even better. However, when conflict arises be there to listen and help.
Apply the FIFI method
A common technique from mediation training is to apply the acronym FIFI for
That is from each person’s perspective,
What are the facts?
What are the Issues?
What are the feelings behind each issue?
What are the interests behind each issue?
Lead with compassion and listen with empathy
Lead with compassion by remaining calm in the face of adversity. Take some deep breaths and focus on remaining calm. Give yourself positive self-talk by encouraging yourself to stay focused and not let emotions take over. Remain confident and competent by assuring yourself, that we can make your way through this together. Listen actively by paraphrasing, summarizing, asking open ended questions, and empathizing with each individual in order to gain further understanding. Avoid jumping to conclusions, taking sides, and offering advice. Instead suspend judgment and do not offer solutions until all perspectives have been heard. See if the parties can produce a solution with your questioning. Practice this technique and help others to apply this technique from mediation. Be a true neutral. Help the parties produce a solution that both can live with going forward. If that is not possible as the manager sometimes you have to default to providing your own solution.
Model the process
Employees look to you and your leadership. How you address conflict in the workplace says a lot about you and your leadership style. Demonstrating compassion in trying situations by remaining calm, confident, and competent says a lot about you. You want to lead with compassion but listen with empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Demonstrate understanding. The more you act this way others will learn from you and begin to practice these same techniques with others. This will develop a more collaborative, positive workforce where everyone is heard, valued, and can contribute to the great good. Wouldn’t you like to work in this environment too? Your employees would too.
I want to thank Deanna deBara for inspiring this commentary from her article on Workplace Peace: Dealing With Turnover and Conflict. Check out her ideas too.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]