Leaving workplace conflict unaddressed can have significant costs. For example, in 2008 U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours a week managing conflict, according to CPP Inc, the publishers of the well-known Myers-Briggs Assessment on decision making styles. In addition, 25 percent of employees said that they missed work due to a work-related conflict, 10 percent said it contributed to project failure, and 33 percent said it led to someone leaving the company, according to the CPP Study. All of this came at a price tag of $359 billion in work hours.
Some experts believe that conflict isn’t inherently negative, but can be turned into something positive given some proactive steps. Negative tension occurs when the parties at odds with each other don’t communicate and assume that the feelings will eventually go away. In contrast, positive tension is energy that can be put toward creative and innovative business solutions. As a small business owner, you would be wise to embrace positive tension because it creates a work atmosphere where ideas can be debated openly and dynamically.
The following are some do’s and don’ts for turning conflict into fodder for greater productivity:
- Know the difference between a task-related conflict and an emotional conflict. The first can be turned into a brainstorming session. The second, which often occurs when employees feel undervalued or demeaned, can cause company-wide dysfunction.
- If necessary, criticize an employee’s behavior, but be careful about using terms that sound like you’re criticizing them as a person.
- Learn how to listen. An effective technique is to allow a person to explain their thoughts on a matter and then attempt to repeat back to them your understanding of what they said. While this may feel awkward at first, it is a proven method of enhancing communication between individuals.
- Conclude with a list of concrete actions that employees can take to resolve a specific conflict.
- Attempt to address a conflict in the heat of the moment. Instead, set time aside when all parties are calm and have had time to process the situation and emotions involved.
- Neglect to hear both sides of the story. When you bring employees in for separate discussions, consider having them cite one or two positive qualities that they see in the other party.
- Appear to favor one side over the other, but work toward compromise. If you are dealing with two valued employees, chances are both opinions have some merit.
- Forget that a conflict-free meeting might not be necessary for a productive meeting. If everyone agrees with each other, you may stifle creative thoughts.
You may think that, as a small company, you have smaller conflicts. The reality is that the cost of conflict for a small business can be quite high. Leaving conflicts to fester in an intimate work environment can affect an entire company culture. The cost of replacing employees who resign can be much more of a burden. Also, lost productivity can result in significantly lower sales. Dealing with conflict can be uncomfortable. Consider doing it anyway. Your business may depend on it.
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