Interpersonal relationships between staff and line managers are most prone to conflict

Promoted by Interpersonal relationships between staff and line managers are most prone to conflict

Why Mark Rose, Managing Director of Creativedge Training, thinks line managers need to be better prepared, or better trained, to handle mediation disputes

I always enjoy reports about ‘World’s Best Employers’ or ‘Top 100 Companies who do ‘X, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ for their staff’. They make for a fascinating read and can often serve as a tremendous inspiration for making changes to my own company and for my staff.

So with this in mind, when I eagerly read Fortune’ s list of World’s Best companies http://fortune.com/best-companies/  my attention was seized by the criteria by which companies were judged: % Women % Minorities # New Graduates Hired # of job openings. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not questioning the value of these significant criteria, but when I subsequently read a great article in CITY AM this week on ‘Three myths on what makes the ideal workplace’,  I began to wonder whether any of the survey questions sent to companies for these ‘best company’ lists, asks them the less obvious question of how they manage conflict? Yes, conflict. Sound like I’ve thrown a curve ball? Let me explain.

Conflict in the workplace has long been an issue and it’s a big issue. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) has recently produced the ‘Getting under the skin of workplace conflict report 2015’ and the report found that four in ten (38%) UK employees have apparently reported some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year. This was either as a one-off incident or as a result of an ongoing, challenging relationship.

And so whilst those ‘best places to work’ lists have impressive percentages for # of job openings and # graduate hires, for me it would be fascinating to know how these companies manage and resolve the ‘less obvious’ issue of workplace conflict.  Conflict resolution in the business world can mean the difference between really good business and no business, period. In my opinion, a company that recognises and resolves conflict is worthy of being on those ‘Top Companies’ lists because it is a glaringly important issue.

If you look at the CIPD report, it says the outcome to conflict when it’s not handled well, is a drop in staff motivation or commitment.  What’s more, in one in ten cases relationships become so unworkable that one of the parties either changes job roles (5%), resigns (4%) or is dismissed (1%). These figures are another example of why workplace conflict management is critical for companies in any sector and of any size and as such, should be paid far more attention.

Common causes of workplace conflict

When you look in more detail at the CIPD report, the most common cause or contributor to conflict at work is difference in personality or style of working.

This could be down to an inability to understand the differences, or it may simply be a frustration with or dislike of a colleague’s style.

But it’s when companies recognise, understand and know how to resolve conflict, that they can inspire staff confidence and eases stress for all parties involved

Employees most likely to conflict? Staff and their line managers

 According to the CIPD report, ‘conflict is most common with one’s line manager, followed by colleagues and people [into whom] one’s line manager reports; in other words, with the people we work most closely and are less able to avoid.’

It continues, ‘Conflict is also seen to be more common with one’s superiors than more junior members of staff. The conflict with line managers (or their bosses) is seen as being most serious and having the greatest consequences, for example, in demotivation or stress. This points to an important power dynamic in conflict, which in turn highlights the importance of conflict resolution skills in line management.’

As for the issues involved with conflict, it appears that the single most common contributor to conflict is differences in personality or styles of working, supporting a relational view of conflict.

However, the CIPD survey findings also support an issue-based view of conflict. Individual performance, target-setting and the level of support or resources are the typical concerns, even far more meaningful than employment contracts or promotions.

So with all this in mind, it’s vital for line managers and staff to identify the problems in their relationship sooner rather than later, when it risks boiling into something bigger than it is.

Think ‘feelings’ NOT ‘facts’

Just as the CIPD report shows, so in my experience of conflict resolution nine times out of 10 the real conflict is about feelings, not facts.

You can argue about facts all day but everyone has a right to his or her own feelings. Owning your own feelings and caring about others’ feelings is key to talking about and ultimately to resolving conflict. It’s also vital to find a solution together and not in silo. Resolving conflict is not about changing another person; change is up to each individual. Each has to know how they want the situation to be different in the future. It’s vital that respective ideas are shared and discussed together in the following way:-

-          What’s involved?

-          Does the person need your help?

-          Does the idea involve other people who should be consulted?

Using the other person’s ideas first, especially with direct reports, will increase personal commitment on his or her part. If an idea can’t be used for some reason, explain why.

My overriding belief is that mediation dispute resolution training and in particular the involvement and training of line managers is essential for the recognition, resolution and ultimately the avoidance of workplace conflicts.


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