Managing conflict at work can be one of the most valuable skills any leader developments. A team which differences are expected among 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 not get on, it's the result of a manager, not being equipped to spot relationship difficulties among their people, and if they do spot it, not having the skills to manage the process towards awareness, resolve and active professional development.
I have seen and heard horrific examples of poorly managed teams and poorly managed managers. These include:
• public humiliations of jobs done poorly around a table of 14 team leaders – a project picked apart in front of peers' why did it happen ?! what were you thinking ?! this is worse than useless ?! ';
• an inadequate manager avoiding a conflict situation in her team, which escalated to a violent outburst followed by one of the 2 parties being signed off work into a mental health unit for 6 weeks until perspective and stability had been re-established. The investigation focussed on the actions of the 2 employees and not on the manager as requiring intensive further training and development;
• an director who had been with a company for 22 years (estimated to manage out of the business). The turnover in his team was intensive because the managers were constantly fed with non-timely, incomplete information, given little direction, and when a project or task was presented to repeat or refine it given the new information that only at that presentation was shared by the director. This director played a very political game with the board of the company, discrediting (over time) his managers who absolutely took their skills elsewhere.
As a corporate and executive coach I mainly deal with high performing, aware professionals what goal is to be clear about their strengths and their ability to contribute to the maximum in the rolls 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 'make them see', 'get them to understand how their actions impact the team '.
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 cleanliness then leaving them in a home where the parent's shower once a week – 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 waste 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 their staff up to ask for help before a situation escalates
• how to train managers to know the difference between normal creative friction and ongoing, stress-enhancing, harmful behavior
• how to continue to develop teams and leaders regardless of there being issues and conflict situations (so being proactive in keeping professionalism and awareness high)
In Part 2 of this article I'll highlight the top 5 solutions to managing conflict at work stay tuned!