Let’s face it, most of us avoid conflict if we can. It’s not pleasant, it makes everyone feel uncomfortable and it’s not particularly productive. But even if you’re the most placid business owner in the world, inevitably there will be occasions when arguments between colleagues break out and insults are traded.
If you don’t manage conflict carefully it can quickly escalate, creating a toxic working atmosphere and worse still, potentially damaging your business reputation.
The negative effects of workplace conflict
Whilst some conflict is part and parcel of normal business life and can be healthy, too much can have an adverse effect on your employees. Not only can it damage your workplace atmosphere and company culture, it can lead to work-related stress and an increase in employee absences. According to a Health and Safety Executive report, 45% of all absences due to ill health in 2016/17 were due to work-related stress.
Conflict can also create job dissatisfaction, lower morale, reduce productivity and create poor relationships between your staff members, which, in turn, increases employee turnover, customer loss and impacts on sales.
Worse still, workplace conflict can impact on your reputation and your ability to recruit the brightest and most talented staff. If the word on the street is you turn a blind eye to conflict or are unsuccessful at resolving it, then your reputation will inevitably precede you and you will struggle to recruit the best people for your business.
And, at its extreme, conflict can lead to litigation. Conflict might be considered bullying and you could find yourself fighting a tribunal case for constructive or unfair dismissal but if punches are actually thrown it may be a criminal case for assault.
The positive effects of workplace conflict
It’s important to remember that not all conflict is bad and, in fact, it can be a good thing sometimes for your business. After all, not everyone is the same. Different staff will have different opinions and a conflict may result in a better solution or outcome for your business.
Clarity tends to diffuse conflict, so by having clearly defined roles for your staff and allowing them to take ownership of their tasks and workflow can mean conflict will stay healthy. They will fight in the interests of your organisation rather than their own and the outcome might well be beneficial rather than damaging to your business.
Conflict also gives you an opportunity to change your business with training or different processes. You may not be aware that something isn’t working properly until a row occurs, so start treating conflict as a valuable business tool rather than something to be ignored. Conflict is also useful for managers and leaders because it helps them assess and evaluate how they deal with such situations. In addition, it can build confidence in your staff by forcing them to have those difficult conversations about work-related topics where the parties involved have different opinions.
Finally, conflict encourages creativity and innovation – when the chips are down that’s often when people come up with the best solutions for all stakeholders involved.
How to deal with workplace conflict
Thankfully, all is not lost and there is plenty you can do to mitigate the negative effects of any conflict that does arise. Or even better, prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Change the workplace
Look at your work environment. Are there things that are causing people stress such as noise, poor signage, bad lighting etc? Are there physical changes you could make to keep your staff happier? Could you change the seating so staff who don’t get on have less contact with each other?
Alter job roles
Keep an eye on what your staff are doing and If they are treading on each other’s toes in terms of responsibilities. If clashes are occurring consider changing the focus of their role or the shifts they work.
Giving staff proper training in conflict resolution and awareness courses can help reduce the risk of conflict. In addition, giving them enough resources to fulfil their role properly can also help prevent conflict.
Have a conflict resolution policy in place
In the event that conflict does arise, have a policy in your employee handbook which outlines how it will be dealt with. This encourages employees to report issues at an early stage which helps you to resolve them before they have gotten out of hand.
As the owner or manager in a business it is your job to lead by example. Going off the deep end and shouting at colleagues is counterproductive but encouraging a positive resolution in the face of an argument will aid you in the long run.
Talk to your staff
Try to seek out amicable resolutions by talking to staff involved away from other employees. You don’t want to cause further embarrassment for anyone but it will allow you to get to the heart of what is going wrong.
Look at yourself
It’s hard to admit but you may be the source of conflict in your workplace so take a look at your own actions and see if they could have contributed in any way.
There is nothing like the saying sorry to help diffuse an argument. A simple apology from you or between staff members could be all you need to resolve a situation.