Ian Ferguson: How To Minimise Workplace Conflict

When we consider the length of time we spend in the workplace, and the many different personalities we encounter, it is not surprising that we come into occasional conflict. Human resource departments are often required to settle employee, management and departmental disputes resulting from personal issues and disagreements. These are a natural part of life, and no workplace is exempt. Think about the last heated exchange you witnessed in your workplace. The last time someone got cussed out or, worse yet, that a fight broke out right there on the property.

Our responsibility, as intelligent and civil people, is to minimise the frequency and impact of such occurrences. Conflict, or potentially volatile issues, must never be swept under the carpet in the hope they will naturally dissipate. Usually, they intensify, and wounds left unattended become infected and, potentially, cancerous.

Here is a classic case. Janet works as a filing clerk and discovers that the beautiful new, college-educated supervisor had to take three weeks off for a medical procedure.

The water cooler conversation, led by Janet, spread the rumour that this young supervisor had an abortion because she had become pregnant by the manager, who also took a day off during this period. No one listening to the conversation even attempts to challenge Janet; the story is simply too titilating.

This ultimately results in a major office bust-up between both parties, and a tremendous loss in productivity for many weeks and months.

This type of drama, and many others like it, plays out in workplaces around the Bahamas and many, if not most, are ill-equipped to handle it. Perhaps the first step is to understand the environment in which this type of conflict thrives. Here are four of those causes:

  1. Disturbed people

Many individuals in the workplace have suffered great emotional and psychological trauma, which has left them severely impaired and mentally deficient. They wear the baggage from their past and present at work daily, and it manifests itself in idle talk, a nasty attitude, and evil and vicious behaviour directed towards the innocent.

  1. Ineffective leadership

Leaders must bear the brunt of much of the conflict at work and, in some cases, they are at the middle of it. Leaders must always take the high road, diffusing issues and working in preventive ways to avoid them in the future. Transferring the problem to another department is hardly the solution.

  1. Lack of team spirit

There is often an unhealthy competition in the workplace. Leadership often fails to create a culture that supports teamwork. The employee screening, hiring, training and incentives must all be geared towards developing staff committed to working towards the common goal.

  1. No policies

and structure

When issues arise at work and are not addressed, either because there is no policy that speaks to the issue or there is little to no accountability to adhering to the policies, conflict will arise.

The question stemming from all this is: What do you do in the face of workplace conflict? Here are my suggestions:

  • Manage your own behaviour and response; you cannot control other people’s.

  • Know your triggers. You know exactly what sets you off. Do everything to stay clear of those things.

  • Manage the necessary stress in your life. You are more irritable and edgy when the stress levels are high.

  • Find avenues of relief. Engage often in activities that bring you enjoyment. Go on the beach, treat yourself to Starbucks or take a Family Island trip.

  • Remain calm and learn to communicate more effectively. Many of our recurring issues result from our failure to talk them through.

  • Never resort to name calling, shouting or hitting. This is where the bottom feeders live.

We will probably never eradicate conflict from our workplace, but we must work every day to minimise it.

• 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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