New research by CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development has identified conflict at work as a major cause of stress amongst employees. The report Getting Under the Skin of Workplace Conflict found that one in three UK employees have experienced some sort of conflict during the previous year. Of these 29% experienced isolated clashes and a further 28% reported ongoing problems.
The cost of ignoring these problems includes reduced productivity, increased sickness and higher staff turnover – all things organisations and their managers want to avoid. Yet ironically the biggest cause of conflict is between staff members and their superiors – 36% as against 10% of conflict with colleagues. Common causes are personality clashes, differences in working style and target setting.
Yet few managers set out to bully or annoy their staff, so how does it go wrong? While the report does not specifically look at this aspect, my experience of working with staff well-being is that managers are often inadequately trained to manage people. This role is seen as an inconvenient ‘add-on’ to ‘their’ work by some and as such people issues can be squeezed out in the busy working day. Proper training helps managers to realise that looking after their people is looking after their team, their business and the success of the organisation.
Managers need training in how to recognise and deal with conflict between team members too. Here are some steps they can take:
- Recognise there is a problem. Getting up from behind the desk or workbench and ‘visiting’ your staff at least daily will pay dividends. Giving people attention (as long as it is not negative) will mean that they are more likely to tell you if things are going wrong. The sooner you find out, the easier the problem will be to deal with. Once you are aware of a conflict move on to step 2.
- Ask questions. Initially you may need to speak to each person individually allowing them time to tell their story without making a judgement. Find out what their unmet needs are. Are they being bullied? Overlooked for promotion? Ignored? Their unmet need can be a surprise. It could be for more recognition, promotion, fair treatment, freedom from fear of attack, more interesting work or any number of other things.
- Ask for ideas. Ask each person to prepare two or three possible solutions to the problem before you meet with them both.
- Acknowledge different perspectives. Get the people together and help each to understand the perspective of the other.
- Continually check your understanding by summarising what is being said.
- Keep control. If emotions may get high, use a simple technique to ensure each person stays as calm as possible. Tell each you will give them x minutes to tell their tale without interruption. Repeat as necessary. When they have done this, ask each person to tell you the possible solutions they identified. You may find they have one in common or can be creative in finding one.
- Summarise the discussion. If an agreement is reached, be specific about what action each person needs to take. If no resolution is reached, you may need to meet again, or bring in conciliation.
- Plan monitoring procedures. Agree with the parties how and when you will check progress. If you don’t do this, things can slip again.
Remember, your organisation’s Dignity at Work policy is an essential guide to support you through the process.
I have helped many organisations to manage conflict. The most fun I have in a training session happens when two people who have been in conflict are witnessed to be talking and working together effectively. The most satisfying part is hearing that two years later they still have a good working relationship!
If you have people in conflict and would like to discuss how we can help to resolve the issues call today on 01954 267640.
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