Conflict in the Workplace

05/07/2019
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In our world of deadline pressure, increased workload and diversity, is it any wonder that the levels of interpersonal conflict experienced in the workplace continue to rise?

Conflict is common in most workplaces. Not all colleagues are going to agree on everything. At minimum, people have different work styles and ideas on how things should be done. As we don’t expect all individuals to get along in the outside world, it would be unrealistic to expect them to always get along in the workplace.

In understanding workplace conflict, it is important to understand how conflict can arise, though the primary drivers of workplace conflict are many and diverse, including:

  • Differences in values, such as work ethic
  • Competition for scarce resources
  • Personality clashes
  • Differences in perception
  • Inequitable reward and punishment systems
  • The nature of work activities
  • Violation of territory
  • Poor communication
  • Organisational authority structure
  • Leadership style

 

Differences of opinion between colleagues can lead to better ideas and solutions. Constructive dialogue can be positive and beneficial to the productivity of the workplace. However, when a discussion becomes too intense and heated, the situation must be handled effectively to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

Poor communication can cause significantly problems in the workplace, potentially impacting those involved in the disagreement as well as the team members working alongside them.

 

Resolving workplace conflict

An environment where workplace conflict is frequent can be disruptive to employees, affecting their productivity and motivation to perform. In today’s, complex working environment, it is imperative that managers have the skills to deal with conflict.

While team managers, leaders and supervisors are often expected to resolve team member conflicts, few of them are confident to do so. In fact, up to 42% of a manager’s time can be spent trying to resolve workplace conflict, and chronic unresolved conflict acts as a decisive factor in at least 50% of employee departures (Dana, 2001).

So, why is workplace conflict so difficult to resolve? There are a number of factors that can contribute, such as:

  • An unwillingness to resolve by one or both parties
  • A lack of skills to resolve
  • A lack of confidence in the ability to resolve or manage conflict
  • Poor communication
  • The real cause not being addressed
  • Unsatisfactory solutions being reached
  • Emotions not being handled
  • Lack of established organisational protocols
  • Fear that the person intervening may have to assume responsibility for the resolution

 

Most organisational policies outline that the parties in dispute should approach each other in the first instance to work out their issues. Given that up to 80% of Australians are conflict-averse, this seldom happens.

When the situation is escalated to their manager and then to HR and they find themselves dissatisfied with their manager’s efforts, many don’t know what to do next. This is the conundrum that many organisations face every day.

iHR Australia has released it's new face-to-face program: Managing Workplace Conflict for Managers, Team Leaders and Supervisors. This inhouse workshop focuses on providing participants with the skills, processes and confidence needed to effectively assist parties in conflict to reach resolution.