Ian Ferguson: Methods To Defuse Workplace Conflict

The workplace is often the scene of great conflict and tension. Truth is, conflict in the workplace is inevitable. In most cases, the tension exists between employees, or with employees and customer. In a few isolated cases, though, employees find themselves embroiled in major battles with their superiors.

Sometimes, the strain of manager-employee conflict is so intense that it becomes debilitating, and breeds a spirit of inefficiency. This conflict typically occurs when there is an incompatibility in work or communication styles, personal values or job performance expectations.

For a brief moment, then, we spend some time discussing the causes and implications of struggles between employees and their managers. First, let us explore the many reasons employees find themselves at war with their managers.

The global phenomenon of ‘them versus us’ takes on new meaning in the Bahamian context. Somehow, we have become quite distrustful of leadership in the political, religious, civic and business world. The primary charge levied against those in authority is that they are self-serving, and more focused on making a name for themselves and building their own personal wealth and prestige. The lack of trust, and the lens of suspicion that we view our leaders through, leads us to negative thoughts and actions.

Sometimes, the competitive nature of the work environment results in supervisors, managers and employees bidding for recognition from those at the top. Unhealthy competition at work often forces leaders to project excessive amounts of dominance, in order to set themselves apart as ‘top dog’. This happens naturally among every species in the animal kingdom. The strongest warrior takes charge, and has the privilege of leading the others. Every now and then, the leader is challenged by someone who feels their own strength, and the struggle continues.

Insecurity sometimes causes leaders to treat employees unfairly, resulting in discontent. When the manager has been bruised in some way or another, or they feel threatened by the strength of the line staff worker, their immature reaction may create unsettling vibes for the employee.

Because we are products of our environment, many leaders manage based on how they have been managed themselves. When leaders use abusive tones and create an unhealthy and tense work environment, employees begin to withdraw, and walls are built between staff.

Conflict in the workplace is too costly to ignore. Setting clear expectations, and having a plan for action, can help to reduce manager-employee conflicts. Here are some quick tips for resolving such issues:

  1. Identify the symptoms and source issues

  2. Find common ground

  3. Listen to the conflict parties without emotion

  4. Collaborate to identify solutions

  5. Mutually agree upon steps and timelines to accomplish the goals

  6. Schedule time to follow-up on progress

• NB: Ian R. Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at tcconsultants@coralwave.com.


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