5 Rules the Best Leaders Use for Reducing Workplace Conflict

Is your company plagued with co-worker versus co-worker or leadership versus employee disagreements and petty hostilities? Just because you don’t openly see the workplace conflict doesn’t mean it isn’t present. In many organizations these things are under the surface and live in a passive-aggressive form. In either case, whether apparent or not there are some steps you can take to deal with damaging and unproductive conflicts in the workplace.

Squabbles over office space, parking spaces, what somebody said about another, a look, cynical perceptions, grievances about promotion, gripes over pay – the average workplace offers thousands of opportunities for conflict…and workplace conflicts are growing in number and severity. A recent report stated legal filings are on the increase for both discrimination and retaliation cases. Given the complexity of human beings, it’s not surprising that so much time is lost dealing with unnecessary conflict at work.

Each of us is unique, with our own viewpoint on the world, shaped by thousands of past experiences and influenced by our varied relationships with parents, spouses, siblings, teachers, friends, and colleagues. Every employee  brings to the workplace a mass of emotions, perspectives, opinions, needs and wants which are different (and sometimes vary) from those of others.

The best leaders know how to manage all of this, the others don’t. Avoiding conflict can be worse than mis-managing it.              

Workplace Conflict is Crippling Many Businesses

Workplace conflicts – whether expressed or unexpressed – are very damaging to businesses. A typical manager spends around 25%-35% of his or her time dealing with conflict, so in a company with 100 managers earning an average of $40,000 each a year, that’s over $1 million-worth of wasted time.

The hidden costs of workplace conflict are also highly significant. An unhappy workforce – where people feel undervalued, misunderstood, overlooked or taken advantage of – leads to greater stress, increased absenteeism, low morale, poor teamwork, and higher staff turnover. Workplace conflict is a cancer to employee engagement.  

Costs have to be weighed not just in human terms, but also in terms of the costs to business productivity and efficiency. Rather than being seen as a necessary evil, unwarranted conflict should be regarded as an overhead cost, just like having computer systems and electricity.

Many people would still regard conflict as inevitable, and it’s true that, on a personal level, there are individuals whose ambition, personal agenda or modus operandi will be to make harmonious relationships more difficult.

A great deal of the conflict which takes place in the workplace, at home and in personal life can be avoided, and is born out of differences that could very easily be accommodated and resolved.

The Best Leaders Use the Following 5 Rules to Overcome Workplace Conflict  

The best leaders do not wait for workplace conflict to get out of hand. In addition, they know workplace conflict is always present and never take it for granted. Great leaders use the following 5 rules to proactively reduce workplace conflict, knowing that it still will occur. Great leaders know:

1. Conflict is an unmet need

2. Conflict escalates when no one connects with the unmet need

3. Conflict is defused when someone connects with the unmet need

4. Conflict is resolved when the need is met

5. Conflict is prevented when people check out whether the need is being met

The best leaders know good work relationships require mutual understanding and acceptance not agreement. They know how to address and connect with needs in the early stages without waiting for the more extreme expressions of workplace conflict. In this way they avoid much of the ‘grief’ that can exist in working relationships.

Learning more about what great leaders do and how can be found in your copy of the free eBook 7 Keys to Employee Engagement, available to you now.

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