Preventing Conflict At Work

conflict at workUn-managed conflicts in the workplace are expensive. A "trench warfare" situation can quickly develop as the working atmosphere disintegrates. Productivity is stifled and senior management may have to step in to control the situation. At the end of the day, the organisation's customers also suffer - either directly or indirectly - from the effects of conflicts which have not been properly managed.

Many situations can lead to conflict within a team escalating into a "trench warfare" situation. Research shows that the main triggers of this type of behavior are:

Intrigue: 71%
Mud-slinging by the boss: 52%
Envy between colleagues: 49%
Lazy colleagues: 38%
An overly competitive atmosphere: 32%
Unsatisfied career ambitions of staff: 23%

Other triggers include a lack of recognition by the line manager and a manager who is constantly in a bad mood.

Managers who inappropriately praise one team member in front of their colleagues (seen as favoritism) or who openly criticises people in front of their mates can also trigger negative conflict situations, which arise due to either envy or malicious pleasure at someone else's misfortune. These negative situations can, in turn, lead to real sabotage of team work, such as withholding important information from each other.

On balance the problem of conflict in the workplace is usually a symptom of poor line management. Through your behaviour as a manager you can prevent certain unhealthy workplace developments and counter an excessive sense of competition within the team you manage.

There are four specific actions you should undertake to prevent conflicts escalating into trench warfare. These are:

1. Be available to every employee as an objective adviser - in this way you will become trusted by your team.
2. If you are told certain information about one of your team members - find out first of all why you were told it.
3. Make sure that you do not favour any employee over the rest - the ability to treat people fairly is an essential people management skill
4. Make sure your employees understand that they are all equal - give your time and support to each of your team members and show them that they are all important.

It is your job as a manager to deal with the conflicts that will inevitable arise from time to time in any team. Make sure that you address potential conflicts at an early stage so that a solution can be found. Do not be tempted to ignore conflicts - sweeping them under the carpet simply allows them to smoulder and grow.

The best protection against the problems of conflict in the workplace is to create a "debating" culture in which all employees can speak openly about issues and debate problems frankly. It is you, the line manager, who directly creates this culture in your team and this goes a very long way to managing conflict at work.