Desktop DRAMA Managers Must Learn to Defuse Workplace Conflict

Winnipeg Free Press, November 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

Desktop DRAMA Managers Must Learn to Defuse Workplace Conflict


Every workplace experiences some sort of drama, yet, believe it or not, I seem to receive more complaints about workplace conflicts in the winter months than at any other time of the year. I'm not sure of any reason other than the fact employees can't easily go outside to let off steam. Perhaps it's the stress of the upcoming Christmas season, or perhaps the stress of one's over-extended credit or perhaps the long, very foreboding cold days of January and February. Excuses, excuses!

And believe me, the drama of conflict in a workplace can be pretty petty. Someone complains about radio noise, too many smoke breaks, coffee breaks that overlap other workers, or a lunch that disappears from the fridge. Then again, more serious issues arise because job duties are not well defined, one worker attempts to dictate to another or one worker is simply not carrying their share of the workload. These issues will continue to escalate, especially when the boss tends to avoid conflict and never steps in to resolve the conflict in its early stages.

At this point, I can just envision that small-business owner or departmental leader shaking their head in desperation as they are forced to deal with their untimely conflicts. They frankly don't want to deal with internal, interpersonal conflict; they want to get on with the key mission of their business. Yet, if the conflict, petty or otherwise, is not dealt with, there can be huge costs to the organization and a huge human-resource headache for management.

For instance, if employees are spending all their time gossiping, protecting their turf, retaliating against each other, recruiting colleagues to support their side of the issue, and planning their personal defence, they aren't working on their assigned duties. What happens to productivity? What happens to customer service? I can guarantee that employee morale will be low and that the tension in the air will be so thick you could cut it with a knife.

What about management time? Research shows that managers typically spend about three hours per week dealing with employee conflict. Considering manager and employee salaries, this translates into hundreds of thousands of lost working days and lost dollars.

This figure doesn't include the cost of the many sick days people engaged in conflict will take in order to avoid the pain they experience at work. Just look at the cost of replacing an employee who quits. That cost alone is often more than three times the employee's original salary. So, there's no way around it, conflict is costly.

However, the question that needs to be asked is why so many managers turn a blind eye and avoid workplace conflict and what can be done to overcome this resistance? Disliking conflict and confrontation is no excuse. So, what can managers do to develop effective conflict management skills? Where does one start?

According to Tim Ursiny, author of the Cowards' Guide to Conflict: Empowering Solutions for Those Who Would Rather Run than Fight, the first thing to do is learn to confront your personal fear. However, he also suggests that fear will not be conquered until there is a history of more positive dealings with conflict.

Therefore, managers need to examine their fear of confrontation. Some people are uncomfortable because they perceive conflict to be similar to hurting the other person.

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