Conflict at Work Causes Expensive Disruption

Conflict at home can cause upset and misery.  Conflict at work can cause expensive disruption and these hidden costs are underestimated in many organisations.

If two people are not working well together, then this will almost certainly have a ‘knock-on’ effect upon the whole department and, in turn, the entire company.  Sometimes conflict is just ignored ‘we will just let them get over it’… ‘what has it got to do with us, time will sort it out’.  Well, time may just NOT just sort it out and situations can easily escalate.  What starts out as an aggravation and annoyance can turn into a full blown grievance all too quickly and start to cost the organisation dear, in terms of time and money.

The aggrieved individual concerned may feel:

• Upset and angry
• Feel they have a  valid case
• Ignored
• Not taken seriously

When someone is ignored or not taken seriously, this will add fuel to the fire, that much quicker, and the need for a formal process to take place may be needed.  This formal process may well take the form of an internal investigation but not all investigations are handled by people with sufficient training and expertise.

Boardroom disputes will probably land on the HR Director’s desk for resolution, so here are some pointers that may help manage this highly sensitive and challenging situation.

Be Objective
Neutrality is vital and one must be careful not to take a partisan position.  The chances are that you will need to listen carefully to both sides point of view [individually and then together] in order to bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

Attentive Listening
You need to listen to not only ‘what is said’ but also to ‘what is not being said’.    This is called ‘the music behind the words’.  Not everyone will be comfortable to start talking immediately and may need encouragement and some gentle probing skills to get started, which should take the form of open questions, use of pauses, silence, paraphrasing and reflection.   Individuals need to feel that they can vent their anger without fear of retribution or break in confidentiality.  One must be careful not to jump to conclusions or have a pre-conceived idea of the situation, prior to the interview.  Trust and empathy need to be established so that each individual feels comfortable in speaking without fear.

Different Perspective
Once trust is established, then it is the role of the mediator to encourage both parties to try and see the situation from the other person’s point of view.  This is not easy and care and sensitivity will be needed.  Looking at what has taken place in the past or previous conversations that have got out of hand, can be useful.  When this process starts, some individuals will hopefully begin to see that there may be issues on both sides that need resolving.  It is sometimes very useful to ‘role play’ a particularly upsetting episode from the past and introduce different ways that it could have been better managed.

Realistic Expectations
It is important to set realistic expectations of what can and cannot be achieved by both parties.  Don’t set the bar too high in case such expectations cannot be realised.  People may think that miracles happen overnight – but unfortunately, they don’t!

Mediating between both parties
Once you have gained the trust and respect of both parties individually, they will hopefully have opened up a new perspective, and then will  be the time to bring them both together.  The mediator might suggest a prepared, problem-solving approach e.g. coaching, training etc.  Helping the individual appreciate the effect that their behaviour is having on their own lives and those of their colleagues can sometimes also help to illuminate the process.

In essence, people don’t usually like working within a conflict situation and it is certainly not part of the healthy corporate culture to which we aspire.  It is also realistic that not all people like each other.  But the reality is that they will have to work alongside each other.  At the end of the day, the job has to be done and no company wants a costly grievance case on their hands – do they!

Key Learning Points 
• Conflict in the workplace is expensive
• Resolution is a process and takes time
• Mediation between both parties is important

Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News.

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