Hitting Workplace Conflict Head-on

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interactions, conflict, argument, debate.” — Margaret Heffernan

Do you remember the last time you avoided getting into an argument with your boss or your coworker? You were probably trying to maintain harmony and relationship. That is what many of us do when we try to avoid conflict.

VitalSmarts' research reveals that employees waste an average of $1500 and an 8-hour workday for every crucial conversation that they avoid. The cost of conflict avoidance is huge and directly hits the company’s bottom line.

According to Joseph Grenny, author of the book Crucial Conversations, one of the costliest barriers to organization performance is unresolved crucial conversations.

Conflict Avoiders

“Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict, and the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering.” — Brendon Burchard 

Conflict avoiders generally have a strong belief that their likeability will reduce if they get involved in resolving conflicts or having a difficult conversation. But this generally leads to negative outcomes. For example, if you see a project getting delayed because the project manager lacks the ability to manage the project team, then as a leader you need to step in and have that crucial conversation with the project manager. If you allow him to continue as is, believing that the problem will get sorted out by itself, then you’re jeopardizing the project delivery. Avoiding conflict can be a wonderful therapy, but not when you know that the outcome would be negative if you don’t deal with it immediately.

Improving the quality of communication with your coworkers, team members, stakeholders, and customers helps to avoid any misunderstandings that would later result in a conflict situation. Conflict need not always be unhealthy and destructive. It can also be productive.

Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

  • Conflicting leadership styles — If leaders have different leadership styles, then there will be conflicts when they have to work on common organization goals. Such conflicts are not good for the teams and people at the ground level. It confuses and creates tension among the employees.
  • Personality types — This is the most common cause of conflict in the workplace. Collaboration becomes a huge challenge when people with different motives, agendas, etc., come together in the workplace
  • Business reasons — Project related stress, aggressive timelines, etc., can cause this type of conflict.
  • Cultural conflicts — This can be the most complex of all, but it can be resolved if everyone can focus on the company’s objectives instead of individual gains

Tools for Dealing with Conflict

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” — Sun Tzu

Respond to conflict instead of reacting to it. For responding to conflicts, one has to ensure that one is focusing on listening to what the other person is saying. Only when you listen with attention, and without allowing any judgments to cloud your thinking, will you understand the reason for conflict and be able to help in resolving it.

Don’t treat it as a personal problem. Confront the problem. For all you know, it may not even be a problem. It could be just some differing views. Such instances of conflict can actually be a learning and have positive outcome.

Conflicts should be resolved immediately. Some managers and leaders avoid dealing with conflicts because they are worried about ruffling feathers. This is a sure recipe for their fall. Instead deal with it immediately and minimize the impact.

Don’t try to resolve conflict with an attitude of “only the strongest will survive.” This will only destroy your relationship and deepen the problem instead of resolving it.


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