Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. What you do when it comes up, however, is what will either set you apart as an employer who cares, or prompt some employees to start packing their bags. This is one area you simply cannot afford to ignore.
Conflict in the workplace results in staggering losses. On average, workers spend as much as 2.8 hours per week trying to resolve conflicts, which adds up to a whopping $359 billion hit to the collective bottom line of corporate America. In fact, most managers spend 25-40% of their time dealing with workplace conflicts. And all of this is a direct hit to productivity, not to mention how it stresses people out, lowers morale, and drives both absences from work and overall turnover. Getting to the root of conflict is clearly important for every organization.
A lot of people think the conflicts that cost businesses and organizations so much must be deep personality or cultural differences between workers, but they would be wrong. As a matter of fact, less than 3% of workplace conflicts come from personality or cultural differences. Here are the top three sources of conflict in the workplace:
- Opposing priorities.
- Lack of communication.
- Misunderstanding how urgent tasks are.
Not exactly what you were expecting, right? But this is a good thing, because we know how to better align priorities, communicate more effectively, and make sure everyone understands what the most urgent tasks are to complete. It’s much more difficult to solve deep personality differences and bridge cultural divides, although those are both important things to try and do as well. The 97% of workplace conflicts that come from the top three sources above are eminently solvable. You just have to put the time and energy into addressing them. Here are two things you can do to reduce the impact of workplace conflict on your company:
Conflict Mediation/Resolution Training. Managers do spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with workplace conflicts, but in part that is because they’re not good at it! This is one area in which a little bit of training goes a long way. Send your managers to good conflict mediation training and see the difference it can make.
Clear Project Management. With every project or job assignment, workers need to know what they need to be doing. Use project management software for your entire organization to make sure everyone knows the tasks they need to be working on, what they’re responsible for, and by when it needs to be done. This is a direct solution for all three of the main causes of workplace conflict. It’s the clearest way to communicate about who should be doing what, invokes accountability, keep s everyone’s priorities aligned, and circumvents misunderstandings. There are lots of options out there from free to quite expensive, but three worth taking a look at are Workfront, Basecamp, and Wrike.
Keep in mind that the point here is not to try and eliminate workplace conflict altogether. That would be a fool’s errand. As a matter of fact, you want there to be some conflict in the workplace because it keeps everyone fully engaged. People have to feel safe and secure enough to disagree with each other in order for the most effective decisions to be made. In other words, conflict can have beneficial results. What we’re doing here is trying to reduce the negative impacts of conflict rooted in specific organizational deficiencies.
Ilan Cohen, MD
Cornea & Refractive Surgeon
Co-Founder of PainLess Hire LLC