Is the vast majority of your time spent babysitting people who can’t get along? If so, you are not alone. Studies indicate that managers spend anywhere from 20 to 42 percent of their time trying to manage employee conflict. In addition to tying up valuable time, workplace conflict increases absenteeism and health care costs, reduces the quality of decision making, pushes good employees to leave, increases the likelihood of damage and theft, and lowers morale. Did you know that strained work relationships cause 65 percent of employee performance problems? That more than 50 percent of employees waste work time worrying about how they’ve been treated? That 22 percent of employees deliberately slow down their work in response to conflict?
Until leaders learn to step up and effectively handle conflict, and corporate cultures are changed, employee conflict will continue to negatively impact the bottom line of otherwise great organizations.
While I believe the learning curve can be significantly decreased, research indicates it takes 16 hours of hearing about conflict resolution for individuals to begin acting on what they’ve learned. Master resolving conflict as a leader and you’ll enjoy a happier, more productive workforce and a better bottom line. Fail to master conflict and things will get progressively worse.
Here are three rules I’ve uncovered through over a quarter of a century of experience equipping leaders for success in and out of the workplace:
Nip problems in the bud. Just as weeds are easily picked when small, conflict is most easily resolved in its earliest stages. The first time a problem arises, have a conversation. That enables you to address it in a calmer, more collaborative manner than when it has happened multiple times. You’ll know you need to say something when you’ve spent more than 15 minutes thinking about what happened. Your energy and attention will no longer be focused on moving forward, but on looking backward. And, if you know you’ll be angry if it happens again, assume it will and nip it in the bud.
Avoid piling on. As in football, not piling on provides protection. Additionally, it helps ensure that the message you need to send will be heard. Years ago, as I was leaving to start my doctorate, a colleague informed me that I had upset him. I listened and apologized. He then told me something else he believed I’d done wrong. Again, I apologized. Feeling beaten up, my reply to his third complaint was, “OK.” Having no interest in being his punching bag, I politely ended the conversation when he started his fourth concern. Were his complaints valid? Perhaps, but his piling on resulted in me self-protecting by tuning him out and dismissing the entirety of what he had shared.
Reflect back the key points you’ve heard before responding to someone’s concerns. People will more easily accept your viewpoint or a decision that they don’t agree with once they know you’ve heard their thoughts. Ignore this step and they’ll either shut down, believing there is no point in talking to you, or they’ll increase the volume and intensity of their argument in an effort to help you better understand what they are trying to say and its importance.
Follow these rules for not throwing gasoline on the fire of conflict and you significantly increase your likelihood of being heard and of resolving conflict quickly and civilly. As you cut down the static inherent in conflict, you empower the involved individuals to create win-win solutions that will benefit you, your employees and your organization.
As you create an environment that ensures each employee feels valued, respected and heard, your productivity and profitability will soar.
Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, December 2014, http://www.gardencentermag.com/article/garden1214-resolve-workplace-conflicts/