Conflict is costly. Over the course of a single year, American businesses lose an estimated cumulative $359 billion due to arguing employees. An individual company loses at least $700 per employee annually, and those who avoid dealing with the conflict could suffer losses as much as $70,000 per employee.
These amounts are awe-inspiring, yet too many businesses fail to address workplace disagreements when they arise. Fortunately, office conflicts tend to fall into a handful of categories that can be addressed in a few simple steps.
1. Personality Differences
No matter how carefully you hire members to your team, you are going to find people who just don’t get along. No two people are completely alike, and most people have a diametric opposite with whom they simply cannot get along with. Something about a coworker’s motives, actions, or character simply doesn’t jive with another coworker, and they often get into disagreements. For instance, a jocular employee who often makes ribald jokes at others’ expense will likely not be appreciated by a shy or quiet coworker who mostly keeps to him- or herself.
Aside from firing offending personalities, the most a manager can do to mitigate this type of conflict is to keep the opposed employees as separate as possible. If they don’t work on the same projects, they are less likely to interact and argue. Barring that, it is good to have around a few employees who specialize in negotiation and dispute resolution because they have training preventing all types of clashes. A specialist will be able to help opposing employees communicate better and understand each other’s feelings.
2. Contradicting Working Preferences
On the surface, this type of conflict may appear to be the same as the previous; however, people who would in other circumstances get along swimmingly may find discord when they attempt to cooperate simply due to differing methods of working. For example, a hyper-organized employee will most likely struggle to join forces with a coworker who fails to write anything down.
Again, the best course of action to remedy this conflict is to observe one’s employees’ working styles and avoid combining opposing working styles on a particular project. Yet, when a certain job requires this pairing, encourage planning and communication. Even then, you should keep a close eye on your employees to monitor their teamwork.
3. Issues With Leadership
This is the most difficult type of conflict for managers to notice because the problem lies almost wholly with them. Not all leaders are the same; a manager’s leadership style is a combination of his or her personality and working style, which means leadership styles are exceedingly varied. In fact, most employees must switch back and forth between managers and directors throughout the day, and vastly differing leadership styles may cause confusion at best and irritation at worst. Still, employees often find fault with a single leader’s choices in management; perhaps a leader prefers an individual, task-oriented workspace while his or her workers yearn for a collaborative environment.
This is another case when bringing on a professional in conflict and dispute resolution would be beneficial. Managers may not be capable of recognizing their own contributions to the office conflict, and having a counselor on hand to provide support and guidance is invaluable. Usually, the best way to mitigate this clash is to have both groups — managers and workers — outline their needs and wants, and then attempt to find a common style that benefits everyone.
4. Diversity Conflict
One of the most positive developments of the modern world is the increasingly diverse workplace. Men and women of all cultures and backgrounds are joining together in offices around the nation to accomplish the same business-related goals. Unfortunately, while diversity offers myriad benefits to companies, it also can cause conflicts among employees.
Even though all people are more similar than they are divergent, people of varied backgrounds will have different beliefs, practices, values, and traditions, as well as possibly a different language. All of this makes effective communication and common ground difficult to reach between clashing employees.
Fortunately, the world in general is becoming more and more diverse, which means that most employees are better equipped than ever to work within a multicultural team. Still, employees who resist a shift toward more diversity in the workplace can thwart progress; the best remedy is to be wholly inclusive, encouraging everyone to work together closely. Additionally, a diversity training program will educate employees on the importance of an inclusive office.
Conflict surrounds us — at work, at home, at the grocery store — but that doesn’t mean we have to suffer its setbacks whenever it rears its ugly head. By confronting disagreements head-on and understanding its causes and solutions, businesses can avoid losing time and money to unnecessary discord.