Why avoiding conflict in the workplace is not healthy

Positive Intentions

Imagine this scenario; Mr Sundaran is sitting in your office in the chair opposite your desk, his head hanging down, eyes studying something his hands are fidgeting with in his lap. A sob escapes him, and he quickly raises his right hand to wipe a stray tear. “Please” he says quietly in a small voice “I have a family to support”.

You feel awful for what you are about to do. You have been given the order to dismiss Mr Sunderan. He slapped one of his co-workers, which according to company policy means instant dismissal. “I have no choice’ you say heavily and look Mr Sunderan in the eyes with compassion. Orders are orders, right? If only someone had dealt with this before it got to this, you are thinking.

Who is really responsible here? Is it Mr Sunderan? Or is it maybe the co-worker? Or in fact maybe the manager should have seen this coming? What can you as HR Manager possibly do, you don’t work on the office floor do you? Let me ask you a question; isn’t conflict management part of the Human Resources function? If so, that means you have a right to do something about it, in fact it may even be your responsibility to implement a strategy for conflict management in your company.

The impact of conflicts on teams and communication

Most of us have been in a working environment or situation where there is a conflict between two people or groups or sometimes more. This often leads to a bad atmosphere and coworkers feeling awkward or that they are forced to take sides. This can eventually cause communication to suffer and break down as people are afraid to share with ‘the other side’ or start engaging in gossips and taking sides. It is often brushed off as ‘office politics’ but it can have devastating effects on both the company performance and health and wellbeing of the employees.

As Katherine Graham, Mediate.com writes: “No employee wants to become embroiled in a workplace dispute. If conflict is not resolved, it can cause stress, frustration, loss of sleep, bad temperament and even illness or other issues for individual employees”.

Kathrine who has been involved in conflict or dispute resolution for over 15 years with clients as large as BBC learning zone in the UK, continues. “According to research undertaken by personality assessment consultancy OPP in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, 85% of employees have to deal with conflict at some point”. So, the problem is rather widespread.

But what causes this kind of conflict and how can it be resolved at an early stage, before it gets to the point of Mr Sunderan’s case?

First let us look at what conflicts are made of and how we can identify them before it is too late. Work conflict often arises over working matters or when there is work related pressures. These can be a simple as a lack of equipment, poor working conditions or overloading work schedules etc. We can call them external ‘hygiene factors”. In Mr Sunderan’s case it started with the colleague that worked on the opposite shift, and therefore meant to release him, constantly being late.

But what makes a person or employee ‘boil over’ to the extent of physically harming somebody else always have to do with emotions building up and eventually spilling over. If we analyze emotions and the fabric they are made of, we discover that all emotions start with a simple thought that the person attaches meaning to and then an emotion. For example, using the case or Mr Sunderan, “he is always late”, that means “he doesn’t care about me” or “he is doing it on purpose, that makes me feel mad. I’m going to hit him”! Notice the pattern of; thought, meaning making, emotion and then action.

So, understanding an employee’s emotional state is often more effective than asking why they did what they did. By understanding their emotions, as an HR professional, you are able to best help the employee handle the emotion which causes the negative behavior. This is true even when looking at the suddenly poor performance of an employee also. If an employee’s performance suddenly changes it is usually always to do with changing thoughts and emotions, so finding the cause of these emotions and helping the employee handle the emotion in a positive way can help increase his or her performance.

The cost of redundancies due to conflict in the workplace

In an interview with Entrepreneur.com India, Rory Rowland [at the time the CEO of a financial firm] tells Jennifer Lawler that when he encountered a petty workplace conflict and chose to ignore it, it had devastating effects on the company. The conflict got to the stage of the two employees concerned where snarling at each-other, colleagues taking sides and the two employees even spending time ‘recruiting’ colleagues to take their side. Even customers where affected and complained to the management of the angry attitudes.

In the same article it states that, when CCP.inc Publishers of the Meyers Briggs Assessment conducted a study on workplace conflict, they found that in 2008, U.S employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This is equivalent to approximately $359 billion paid working hours (average earnings of $17.95 per hour), or the equivalent to 385 million working hours.

This is just measuring the people still working in the businesses and not even including the abhorrent cost of running investigations for disciplinaries, dismissals and the recruitment costs to replace the dismissed. So, from a company point of view this is very much a financial issue also.

The truth is, Mr Sunderan’s conflict had been going on for a while and tension rising along with it. In fact, conflict at work is nothing new, and when you look at human beings you see that it is everywhere. You hear siblings argue daily about trivial things, in families or marriages it is part of how we build our relationships. Negatively speaking it is even how wars start.

In the corporate world though, business consultants are making fortunes in conflict resolutions in companies where communication has broken down and, in some cases, become immobilized as a result of the conflict. When looking at it from this perspective it makes sense to ask yourself; ‘what can I do to prevent this’?

Emotion and conflict management

Part of the reason Emotional Intelligence is so important in today’s world is because greater success is linked to this form of intelligence than plain IQ or education. Often people that score high in this area become more successful at work and in life. Managers that get promoted often usually have a higher EI than others as management further up in the food chain is really more about organizing and motivation people than managing tasks themselves. Being aware of and identifying the emotions of workers and management is really key to managing its workforce and the health of the company as a whole.

Emotional intelligence is as much about managing yourself, being able to change state in yourself as well as others. If another’s negative emotion is affecting others it is a skill to be able to identify it and interrupt it.

In the case of Mr Sunderan, there was always a moment ‘before’ the time he hit the colleague. And most likely many negative thoughts and meaning-making leading to his emotional overload. It is emotions that make us human, but sometimes they can equally trip us up and cause us a lot of trouble and pain. In fact, we think we know our emotions but a staggering 80% of emotions are incorrectly identified. Equally there are emotions we would really rather not feel at certain points at work, such as anger, stress and anxiety. How useful would it be to know the tools and techniques to interrupt those emotions and chose more remorseful ones? Even more useful to teach Managers and the workforce to do the same? We would argue that anyone who deals with human beings can benefit from learning this.

How valuable would it be to work within an environment where Managers and employees have leant how to communicate effectively and how to handle emotions that will inevitably surface from time to time? Harvard business Review published an article stating that studies by Queens School of business and the Gallup organization shows that disengaged workers result in experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.

What would your job as an HR professional look like if your department did not have to spend time resolving issues resulting from conflict and instead focus on better performance and employee development?

Effective conflict resolution in the HR profession

If you see the value of implementing new strategies of conflict prevention management in your company, it would need to make sense to look at what is available in the market and in similar industries like yours. Studying a company or companies that have high retention of their work force and finding out what they have in place is as good a place as start as any. You can find this out by looking at similar companies to your own in LinkedIn and analyze how long their employees stay within the company or move on quickly. It is also worth looking at making comparisons between different seniorities in the companies. For example, if Managers are staying a long time and employees turn over fast, you could make the assumption that the working environment is not what it should be. If on the other hand you see that Managers and staff are being promoted through time with the company, it is most likely an indication of a good working environment. This can be done by browsing manually yourself, or if your company has the budget, LinkedIn has various functions where you can pull reports with all sorts of interesting data on companies you are researching.

Another way of finding out is to befriend the HR Manager or L&D manager in such companies and simply ask for help or advice on what they have in place for conflict management. HR Managers often stick together and don’t mind helping each-other in the professional communities.

At the heart of most disputes or conflicts there is always the issue of a lack of communication. So, another good place to start is to focus on effective flow of communication. Take a look at the structures of communication in your company. Are there opportunities for employees to ask questions and voice their opinions? Are the Managers able to communicate openly with their superiors or board of directors? What is the communication like between Managers and staff? Does information flow as it should to the right people concerned?

What are the workplace ‘stressors’ for both management and staff? Examples could be work-load, working hours, working environment, equipment etc.

Once this has been identified it then makes sense that the communication happens in a way that it is effective. Indicators of a lot of conflicts again nearly always lie in effective communication. Are the communicators trained in how to get their message across or is there a need for training on this?

Below are some suggestions on areas to look at in your work place to improve conditions and avoid unnecessary conflict:

  • Staff working environment; working hours, work load, equipment and resources for work,
    temperature & lighting, staff common areas and breaktimes
  • Management communication and how information is handled and cascaded down
  • Notice and analyzing sick leaves and absence from work
  •  Analyze staff turnover and hiring cycles
  • Analyze training gaps and needs in the work force and especially leadership

This is equally important to investigate within the management as they are the catalyst of the work environment and also have the pressure of performance from above.

Once your investigation and subsequent report has been put together, you will need the ‘buy in’ from your own leader to spend time, money and resources on implementing it. If you have all the financial calculations appropriately in place, even the most hardened financial controller or CEO is not going to argue the change you want to implement. The evidence is there in black and white and your argument of financial importance as well as anything else.

The benefit of teaching Emotional Intelligence and effective communication in the workplace

Mastery of Emotions really are key to being successful and productive at work and in life. Imagine now a leadership and workforce that are trained not only to communicate effectively but also to understand and navigate emotions effectively. These are skills for life, not just for work.

If you have the luxury of a budget for training in your organization, we really recommend considering
training Emotional Intelligence as part of your training plan. If your budget is not so high it would be a
more than worthy investment in yourself as it will help you in your profession and effectiveness in your
job. Consider also to become a qualified coach and trainer yourself, or someone in your team to be. This

will not only bring the cost down significantly but give you a more long-lasting impact on your company’s performance over time, saving a vast amount of time and money for the company as a whole. They may even sponsor you to take the training with your company paying for you, or someone in your team, to become a trainer in Emotional Intelligence.

Below are some of the things you would learn in our Emotional Intelligence Master & Trainer course;

  • Consciously navigate yours and other’s emotions
  • Powerful Re-Programming Techniques
  • Emotional Engagement for Communication & Presentation
  • Boost Negotiation & Persuasion Results Using Emotions
  • The Happiness Booster

These are just a few of the skills and techniques you learn in this program that can be taken for mastery or certification or also become a trainer in a total of 5 days. If you are interested in finding out more about this training or discuss any aspect of it please WhatsApp+919769277975 for more information. Or simply email info@drdorisnlp.com