Managing conflict at work can be one of the most valuable skills any leader develops. A team whose differences are respected amongst each other – strengths, work patterns, communication styles, personalities and life choices – is a powerful team. A manager who encourages diversity and is equipped to manage difference skillfully is an asset to any company.
One of the most stressful things in any professional's life is heading in to work every day knowing that there's someone they have to interact with that will cause them stress. To do this day-in-day-out, for weeks and months on end is like slow torture and can lead to anxiety, sick days and physical and mental health issues. All too often this is not the result of 2 people in a team who can't get on, it's the result of a manager, not being equipped to spot relationship difficulties amongst their people, and if they do spot it, not having the skills to manange the process towards awareness, resolve and active professional development.
I have seen and heard of extraordinary examples of badly managed teams AND badly managed managers. These include:
- public humiliations of jobs done badly around a table of 14 team leaders - with projects critically picked apart in front of peers 'why did it happen?! what were you thinking?! this is worse than useless?!';
- an manager avoiding a conflict situation in her team, which escalated into a violent outburst from a team ember who was subsequently (undersandably) signed off and hospitalised with acute stress. The future investigation focussed on the actions of the 2 employees, and not on the manager, as requiring intensive further training and development;
- a 22-years-in-the-business director whose team turnover was extensive. His managers were constantly fed with non-timely, incomplete information, given little direction, and when a project or task was presented had to repeat or refine it given the new information that was only then shared by their leader. This director played a very political game with the board of the company, undermining (over time) his managers, who ultimately took their skills elsewhere. Important to note that the company in this case had invested £0 in the professional development of this director in over 2 decades.
As a corporate and executive coach I mainly deal with high performing, aware professionals whose goal is to be clear about their strengths and their ability to contribute to the maximum in the roles they're in (like a national athlete working ongoing with a personal trainer). However, in at least half of every case I'm asked to consider, a director or manager want's me to 'fix' a person who reports in to them to 'make them see' or 'get them to understand'.
In these cases I have to explain (sometimes to the point of losing the contract) that if I 'fix' this person without having the ability to coach their manager to increase his/her skills and awareness it's a poor time and money investment for the company. It's like teaching a child to speak clearly then leaving them in a home where the parents mumble - it just increases the child's awareness that the culture they live in is not developed enough for them to fully thrive.
The issues for companies with potential conflicts between employees are:
- how to justify the investment of time, money and productivity once a conflict situation gains its full momentum (employees, leaders, human resources, knock on effect to team morale)
- how to skill up staff to ask for help before a situation escalates
- how to train managers to know the difference between normal creative friction and ongoing, stress-enhancing, detrimental behaviour
- how to continue to invest in the development of teams and leaders regardless of there being issues and conflict situations (being proactive in keeping professinalism and awareness high)
In Part 2 of this article I'll highlight the top 5 solutions for managing conflict at work!
Jennifer Broadley is one of the UK's leading executive coaches. She works with corporate leaders, business directors and successful entrepreneurs. She specialises in continued high performance, intuitive leadership and personal & professional accomplishment. Jennifer is passionate about the ongoing self improvement of the world's future business leaders – the way-showers for our precious next generation. She coaches, speaks and writes on 'The 7 Steps to Personal & Professional Freedom'®. Her book of the same name is available on www.Amazon.co.uk . To talk further you can call, email or message Jennifer from www.JenniferBroadley.com .