In March of 2011, Laura Hill wrote a post for WorkArrow about when to cut ties with your current job and move on. She cites personality conflict as a contributing factor to workplace dissatisfaction. In today’s post, Alexa Thompson advances the discussion of conflict in the office and offers potential solutions that employees can take to step inside the psychological mindset of their bosses and coworkers in order to avoid escalating disagreements. Alexa also regularly contributes to a website about psychology education, where you can find information about where to find classes in psychology which can improve your outlook on conflict management.
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Conflict is a universal issue, and navigating it can be a constant struggle for many people. No company is immune to conflict, although a conflict’s potentially negative impact on a workplace is greatly mitigated if managers properly handle the situation. Today, many psychologists argue the most effective way for business leaders to combat workplace conflict is by facilitating a discussion between both parties and exploring options for resolution – and often, this mediation fosters a positive relationship between the two previous opponents.
According to the Centre for Conflict Resolution International, workplace squabbling has many negative effects. Conflict participants often suffer from stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and other mental health issues; according to a 2005 study, lost work as a result of workplace stress is estimated to reach $1.7 billion. However, companies and businesses often receive the brunt of these negative consequences. For instance, many employees involved with conflicts eventually approach management to file harassment claims; a 2005 survey by Roffey Park indicated that 52 percent of British business managers have experienced some form of harassment. These sorts of claims can lead to lawsuits that cost the company between $50,000 and $100,000 – and take three to five years to settle.
Another concern is when employees who are expected to leave a company under negative circumstances instead opt to remain in their current position. “Such employees tend to have lower commitment, be more dissatisfied with their jobs and reduce morale in the area in which they work,” cites a 2003 study by Duxbury & Higgins. On the other hand, a 2001 report titled “The Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict” states that workplace conflict accounts for 90% of resignations and involuntary departures. Ultimately, managers can spend roughly 30 to 40% of their time sorting out various conflicts between co-workers.
Workplace conflicts can take place between peers or employers and their subordinates. According to Jean Lebedun in his report “Managing Workplace Conflict,” individuals engaged in peer-to-peer conflict often make one of two mistakes (if not both): they ignore the problem completely until it becomes unmanageable; or they become overly aggressive or spiteful toward the other person. Dr. Lebedun encourages employees to put a positive spin on their problems by recognizing the upsides to conflict, such as combining different viewpoints to derive a well-rounded solution, using spirited arguments to challenge pre-existing ideas and resolving problems in a way that preserves team spirit. The key, he says, is removing tension from these settings. “Many people deal in negative ways with the tension that often results from conflict,” he notes. “They develop negative styles of conflict that affect everyone, not just those directly involved in the conflict situation.”
Conflicts between employers and subordinates can be trickier to resolve, typically because the latter may fear reprisal (firing, punishment, etc.) by confronting the former. However, Erika Andersen of Forbes notes that workers who consider their boss to be ‘difficult’ usually have four options. First, they can attempt to sit down with their supervisor and attempt to resolve the conflict in a civilized manner. If this does not succeed, then the employee can reach out to co-workers in an attempt to modify the existing office culture. If neither measure achieves the desired results, then the employee is essentially left with two choices: adapt, or leave the company. Ms. Andersen notes that successful implementation of the first two steps often negates the need to make this final choice. However, if leaving the company is necessary, she urges employees to “Figure out how to transition into a new job without putting [themselves] into an untenable financial position.”
Realistically, every working person will be involved in at least one office conflict during his or her career. Rather than encouraging people to avoid, ignore or aggressively respond to these situations, workplace psychologists encourage everyone to think of them as perfectly surmountable challenges. And if the conflict is resolved effectively, the two warring parties are often able to foster a positive working relationship – and in some cases, even a friendship.