The effects of conflict in the workplace are widespread and costly. Its prevalence, as indicated by three serious studies, shows that 24-60% of management time and energy is spent dealing with anger. This leads to decreased productivity, increased stress among employees, hampered performance, high turnover rate, absenteeism and at its worst, violence and death.
Conflict in the workplace is the result of a variety of factors. Perhaps the most significant cause is when someone feels taken advantage of. This might happen when a perfectionist boss demands the same dedication and commitment from employees as he or she exhibits, but does not compensate them for the late or weekend hours.
Other scenarios include the employee having unrealistic expectations of what their job position really is, or of being misunderstood in the workplace. Conflict also arises because of values and goal differences in the company. The company may not have goals or not adequately express the goals and values to their employees. Conversely, the employee may have personal goals and values at odds with those of the company.
There are four specific steps managers can take to reduce workplace conflict. The first is for managers to look at communication skills, both in terms of how they communicate and how they’re teaching their employees to communicate with each other. This, of course, includes using ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ language. Owning your own feelings and your own communication is a much more effective way to communicate and even more, teaching your employees to communicate that way with others, goes a long way toward reducing conflict.
The second part of communication is for managers to beef up listening skills. Active listening involves things like actually trying to understand what the other person is saying, and then communicating to the other person that you do indeed understand what they’re saying.
The second way to decrease workplace conflict is to establish healthy boundaries. Without boundaries, there will be conflict and squabbles, power struggles and all kinds of circumstances that make for messy situations.
You can be professional and be empathetic and compassionate toward your employees, without crossing the line of becoming their friend. This is especially important when there’s a power difference between two people in an employment situation.
The third factor to reducing conflict is a skill called ‘emotional intelligence.’ There are many aspects and facets but it basically means developing skills to be more effective by teaching people to combine both intelligence and emotions in the workplace.
Seeing and dealing with employees as human beings with real lives is often overlooked in the busy workplace. People with high emotional intelligence can do this in a professional manner, and maintain appropriate boundaries. Another aspect of EQ is knowing and being sensitive to how employees are experiencing you as a manager. Part of EQ is teaching managers to be sensitive to how they’re coming across to others.
The fourth aspect of reducing workplace conflict is setting up behavioral consequences to be used with truly uncooperative employees who are unwilling to change. Despite using all these recommendations, there will be a few employees that just won’t change because they’re unwilling or unable. That means a manager must explain a consequence, which is an action or sanction that states to the employee the likely outcome of continuing problematic behavior. It will take skills from the three previous points to do this in a non-threatening way.
Is there ever a place for anger in the workplace? Yes. When people can say, ‘Wait a minute. I’m not happy with this; I don’t like what’s going on,’ and they turn that anger into a positive action, then the anger can be seen as a kind of motivator. Sometimes when we’re in a position where we recognize that we are upset about something, and we use that to our advantage, we can make that work for us, and in the long run, actually work for the company.
As employees, the more we can learn to speak up, to be able to say what our needs and our wants are in a healthy way, and not let it fester to the point of rage or explosion, we can use our anger as a motivator to help us take action.
Employees can also change their attitude toward their job while putting up with the unpleasant aspects of it. One way to reduce conflict and to be happier is to find a way to shift our perspective and our vision of why we ’re there.
I’d like to close with a story that’s going around about the janitor at Carnegie Hall who had been there for 20 years. He’s 45 years old. He was cleaning up the restroom, and a guy in a business suit went up to him and said, ‘You seem to be an intelligent fellow. For 20 years you’ve been cleaning the toilets. Why don’t you do something with your life and get another job?’
And the janitor said, ‘What? And leave show business?’
It’s all in how we view the situation and perceive what we’re doing that determines our satisfaction and fulfillment on the job.
Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at www.angercoach.com and receive two bonus reports.