Jan 24, 2022 Vas Nair
If You’re NOT Dealing With Conflict…Make It A Priority!
We’ve all encountered situations that have some element of conflict. Maybe it was due to differences of opinions or a lack of communication resulting in poor decision making. Conflict can also bring with it tension and emotional reactions such as anger, frustration, fear, or anxiety. None of this speaks to a productive and engaging workplace!
I remember leading a transformation effort at a company that was being acquired. Most of the senior leaders were opposed to making changes. That meant dealing with a lot of conflict at senior level hubs. At the beginning of the assignment, every day was a stressful day for me! However, thanks to some wisdom from my mentor, I focused on tackling the issues versus hoping they were teething problems that would go away. That was an important lesson learned.
The most common reasons for conflict at work can come from poor communication; lack of role clarity and goals; clash of personalities and working styles, and suboptimal support. This can be exacerbated by not fully understanding how the conflict affects team members and therefore, not leaning in to give them the support that they need.
As conflict is a very REAL part of human interactions, it’s incumbent upon us to deal with it immediately and minimize any adverse impact. Take steps to clearly understand what’s at the heart of the issue. When left unmanaged conflict can escalate, which makes it more difficult to diffuse and resolve. What you could be left with are fractures in workplace relationships and ineffective teamwork – which will ultimately lead to declining business results.
There are usually four categories that I’ve seen come out of unmanaged conflict:
Diminishing work outputs
Ineffective relationships either within or between teams can lead to disruptions.
For instance, unresolved conflict can delay decision making particularly when team members are not sharing critical information. These unnecessary distractions lead to errors and missing deadlines which subsequently flow into lower standards and poor performance outcomes. When there is a buildup of stress and tension, you can expect team members to ‘just not want to be there’! Dis-engagement or even absenteeism is to be expected. And by the way, if we’re talking about customer-facing teams, this lack of cohesiveness will eventually be observed and felt by customers. No doubt about that!
People observe and talk about what goes on at work. Even in hybrid workplaces – tension, poor teamwork, and unhealthy relationships are felt by team members who work remotely. Sometimes, this causes them to take sides…and we know that such divisiveness creates cracks in company culture. There is then mounting pressure on managers to step in. However, when a manager allows tension between team members to go unchecked, what follows could be the lack of trust in the management team. This won’t bode well for the manager, whose credibility could be in question. Add to this – a lack of trust and team members doubting the manager’s competence. In essence, what should’ve been tackled early has now escalated to become a bigger contagion!
I’ve seen top talent leave a company because they felt exhausted by all the distractions from unresolved conflict.
As morale weakens and they see their contributions going off-ramp, it’s enticing to look for a healthier and alternate way to work. With all this stress, they will start to question the company’s commitment to employee wellness. Also, replacing top talent can be extremely time consuming and costly. In the meantime, the workload still has to be absorbed by others, which creates more tension! You get the picture, right?
Damaged goodwill and credibility
We’ve all heard about companies that don’t treat their employees well. Given how rapidly word travels – thanks to social media and internet sources – companies are very often in the spotlight when it comes to poor leadership or caustic cultures. On the contrary, we also share and hear stories about workplaces that do it right. Not only do potential recruits read about this, but so do current and potential customers. Hearing about unhealthy work cultures can make them question their involvement with those companies.
Impact on the wallet
Needless to say, all this tension, distraction, loss of business, absenteeism, and talent departure will seriously impact the bank account. Unfortunately, none of these scenarios can be ‘fixed’ overnight. Therefore, investing in your people by establishing processes that train and guide them on conflict resolution is a must. By doing this, you’re investing in a culture that empowers problem-solving.
As a manager of others…
If you’re in need of advice, go to your immediate manager with as much detail as you can get about the conflict. Alternatively, get your HR manager involved if they’re out of the loop.
In situations where you’re dealing with the scenario on your own, start by listening to what the individuals have to say. Make your expectations very clear and allow them to problem-solve. Don’t jump in to solve the issue, because the solution or change is more sustainable when the impacted parties figure it out. That’s not to say that you should simply stand by and watch it get out of control. Gauge the situation and take action as needed. Again, if you’re out of your depth, ask your manager or coach for guidance; and if the issue is serious, it’s advisable to get a professional HR advisor to help you.
From my perspective, any manager who engages in conflict avoidance should be coached immediately. Frankly, I see this as a performance issue, which feeds into all the problems outlined above. This is poor form because it tells others that it’s OK to avoid conflict.
Ideally, you want to get to a WIN/WIN outcome. This is highly possible when the conflict is addressed immediately. The longer it’s ignored or misunderstood – the greater the chances of the situation escalating to become more serious, while negatively impacting others and the business. At the very least you need the impacted parties to focus on deliverables, agree on next steps and how they plan to collaborate going forward.
Finally, stay in touch with the team members to listen to how well they’re progressing. Your ‘presence’ will be appreciated, as they’ll feel that you care and have their best interest in mind. Remember, asking for guidance from others doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent. On the contrary, you learn so much from the right guidance and will feel more confident when tackling conflict in the future.
We’re Vas and Sobha Nair, two sisters that have lived and breathed all aspects of human resources for over 50 years between us. Giraffe was born from our global experience coaching leaders and business owners navigate the same tricky workplace issues and discussions that you face. We know the best practices and proven processes that help turn workplace conflict on its head – and we want to share all of this and more with you in Giraffe.