SBC Team

Defusing Workplace Conflict

Posted by SBC Team Jun 24, 2010
Disputes among your workforce can diminish productivity, increase stress, and even lead to disruptive outbursts and litigation.

By Christopher Freeburn

Disputes between individual employees and between employees and their bosses can erupt in any office situation, large or small. But in small offices the magnitude of any interpersonal friction is greatly exacerbated by the close proximity in which the staff works.

According to data from the Dana Mediation Institute, unresolved conflicts between employees account for as much as 65 percent of downturns in workplace performance. Worse, the institute calculates that a whopping 42 percent of a disgruntled employee's work time can actually be spent arguing over the disagreement, or trying to fix it. That's a considerable amount of time lost to squabbling and score settling. What's more, studies show that disgruntled employees tend to have higher turnover and absentee rates, are more likely to engage in workplace theft, and get injured on the job more frequently than satisfied employees.

The first step to dealing with a conflict between employees is simply recognizing that it exists. Small business owners are often so involved in the daily operations of their businesses that they can fail to notice tension brewing right outside their office door. "Make sure that employees feel comfortable coming to you with problems," advises management consultant, C. Davis Fogg. "The best way to do that is to listen carefully and not dismiss any complaints out of hand." Fogg says that employers who cultivate an aura of approachability will be more aware of potential conflicts between their employees before they escalate into nasty confrontations.

Sources of Office Conflict
Conflicts among workers can arise from any number of sources, including:

Competition - Even in small businesses, employees compete with each other for responsibilities and job advancement. In fact, competition among employees can be even more intense in a small office than in a larger firm since small business employees generally have a greater range of responsibilities and discretion, all while working in close proximity to their boss. (For more on how to manage competition in the workplace, see Part III of our series "Motivating Your Employees".

Office Demographics - The rapid diversification of the U.S. population means that many offices, large and small, are now composed of staff from divergent ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Such diversity does not automatically translate into harmony. In fact, it can make misconstrued statements and unintentional slights more common, since all employees may not share the same cultural background.

Family Discord - Employees who are having problems at home often bring those difficulties into the workplace by becoming irritable, combative, and distracted.

Personality Conflict - People have naturally differing temperaments, which are not always complementary. An easy-going, gregarious, talkative employee may irritate his taciturn, quiet, introverted co-worker. The worker who constantly procrastinates may find herself at odds with the colleague who insists on consistent, steady performance.

Loss of Control - Working with others means surrendering some level of control over our actions. Some people find it difficult to accept the opinions or directions of others. This can be a problem for small firms that are expanding. Older employees may resent the loss of responsibilities that they formerly held to newly added employees.

Miscommunication - Failure to clearly communicate underlies most office conflict. An offhand gesture or comment may be misunderstood. A decision to reorganize some aspect of the firm's business may be misinterpreted as a rebuke by the affected employees if not properly explained.

Mediating a Conflict

 

Personal conflicts among your employees can lead to a hostile workplace, reducing productivity and possibly driving away valuable employees. If you discover a conflict among your employees, here are some simple steps to take to resolve the issue:

1.) Identify the problem. Assemble all the parties involved and ask each employee to explain the conflict from his or her point of view.

2.) Listen carefully to each party. Don't assume you know what the problem is before you hear what they have to say. Assumptions can bias how you interpret what your employees tell you.

3.) Remain impartial. Don't take sides. You can only gain the trust of those involved in the conflict if they perceive you as being a neutral party, not leaning toward one side or the other. If achieving this perception of neutrality is difficult or impossible to achieve--like, say, if one of the disputed parties is a family member and the other is not--then it might be necessary to go outside the company and hire a third-party mediator or arbitrator to resolve the problem.

4.) Keep the discussion focused on the problematic behavior or situation--not on the individuals involved. Avoid accusatory language that seeks to lay blame on any party.

5.) Ask each party if he or she understands what the other has said. Having each party restate the other's position is a helpful way to make certain each has heard and can show some empathy for the other side.

6.) Ask the parties what they think would be the best solution for the conflict. Ask detailed questions of all parties. Some compromise should be demanded of every party.

7.) Follow up. Once a solution has been agreed upon, speak with each party in the days and weeks following the resolution to make certain they are satisfied with the outcome.
SBC Team

Smart Business Travel Tips

Posted by SBC Team Jun 17, 2010

Consider these invaluable tips to keep your travel costs as low as possible

 

by Max Berry

Travel can be hard on a small business owner's budget, especially now that airlines are charging fees for once-complimentary services like checking a bag. But with a little forethought and a willingness to root out the best deals, your next business trip could take you through friendlier-not to mention more cost-effective-skies than your ever imagined. Here are ten tips for business travelers on a budget.

Appoint a Travel Guru
Assign someone in your office the task of compiling a bookmark folder of Internet travel tools and discount sites. Sites like http://Priceline.com and http://Hotwire.com come in handy for discounted airfare and hotel rates, while http://Hopstop.com maps public transit routes and offers taxi-fare estimates for America's largest cities. When the need to travel arises, save yourself some time by letting your travel guru hunt for the cheapest fares and discounts on aggregator sites like http://kayak.com or http://bing.com/travel. Once they've narrowed the options, you can select the itinerary that works best for you.

Research Your Destination
Base your travel budget on realistic destination costs rather than an arbitrary per diem. If you maintain a set budget for every trip you take, you may find yourself running out of money fast. Likewise, if you bring a Manhattan-sized roll of bills to Tulsa, you may find yourself with far more than you need. Do some research on the city you'll be traveling to; how extensive is its public transportation system? What constitutes eating on the cheap in your destination city? Sites like http://Yelp.com and http://Citysearch.com will help you gauge just how much your stay will cost you.

Negotiate
Booking websites with a name-your-own-price option are a valuable tool for business travelers on a budget, but many hotel managers will also negotiate rates directly with customers. Most innkeepers won't advertise this fact, but if you'll be staying with them for a prolonged period of time, you can use that as leverage to get a better price. Angle for your own "corporate rate" by telling the manager that the slight discount you're seeking may make the difference between staying with them or going to another property nearby.

Take Advantage of Special Offers
Frequent flyer programs and credit cards that award points for hotel stays and airfare are smart moves for any frequent traveler. Also consider signing up for a mailing list or two. Sites like http://Orbitz.com send regular e-mails detailing featured discounts on airfare while most major hotel chains offer special deals to frequent customers. Not every offer will be of use to you, but if it gets you a deal on your next business trip, it will be well worth sorting through the bulk mail.

Plot a Course
If you are flying to your destination and will need to take a taxi or hired car from the airport, check the likely fare ahead of time (Hopstop is good for this). You may also want to use Mapquest or Google Maps to familiarize yourself with the most direct route. Some cabbies will take a more circuitous path to your destination in order to drive up the fare if they sense you don't know your way around.

Pack Light
This is sage advice now more than ever. Many airlines are charging $25 and up to check even one bag (For a handy rundown of baggage fees, by airline, go here: http://expedia.com/daily/flights/airline-fees.asp ). If you can squeeze everything you need into a carry-on, consider foregoing baggage check altogether. Or, if possible, fly one of the discount airlines (Southwest or JetBlue) that allow you to check your first bag for free. (A second checked bag is also free on Southwest.) Also keep in mind that if you must travel with two or more bags for business, these baggage fees to and from your destination might add up to the price of the airline ticket itself, so to choose the most affordable air carrier you must factor these expenses in.

Car Rental Tips
A general rule of thumb for saving money when renting a car is to reserve the smallest model at the lowest price. If the agency runs out of compact cars, they will be required to rent you a larger model at no added cost. You may also opt to waive the insurance. While the added precaution couldn't hurt, chances are you won't need it, since most auto insurance policies and credit cards already cover car rentals as part of their policies. One other tip: If you can, try to rent a car at a downtown location away from the airport, as most airport rental-car locations charge steep usage fees and tourist taxes that can add 10%-30% to your final bill.

Gotta Go Now
When traveling on short notice, check airlines' special offers pages first. If your schedule is flexible and you are open to the idea of odd departure and arrival times, you may be able to snag a last-minute deal. This is especially true for flights in the middle of the week. Some discount airlines also offer walk-up fares that are considerably cheaper than those of their large competitors.

Exercise Some Discipline
It may seem obvious, but resisting temptations like the mini-bar, room service, and in-flight meals and cocktails will add up to big savings. Just as small expenses you'd barely even factored into your budget account for much of your day-to-day spending, minimal services like these are designed to turn a profit on travelers who are tired, unfamiliar with their surroundings, and lack a better option. Don't fall for them. Instead, plan ahead by bringing plenty of snacks in your carry-on bag, identifying some restaurants near your destination, and possibly even swinging by a local grocery store to stock up on some basic provisions if your hotel room will include a refrigerator.

When in Rome...
Once you arrive at your destination, try to take some cues from the locals. There will be no better authority on how to eat, shop, and get around cheaply. If the people you are doing business with live in your destination city, ask them for some advice. If the city you're visiting has them, local blogs and Internet message boards-found through sites like http://virtualtourist.com are excellent sources for advice on how to do as the Romans do.

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