Some 98% of HR leaders are charged with handling conflict at work, and business environments with heightened instances of conflict experience greater turnover, increased sick leave and absenteeism, unproductive use of valuable time and increased legal costs.
Those are the findings of a 2012 survey by Employee Development Systems (EDS), which also found that 81% of HR professionals have experienced an employee resigning as a result of conflict, and 77% have seen it result in increased absenteeism.
After canvassing the experiences of more than 350 HR professionals, the survey concluded that common root causes of workplace conflict included:
Warring egos and personality clashes (86%)
Poor leadership (73%)
Lack of honesty (67%)
Clashing values (59%)
However, it was also found that when conflict is handled effectively, it can actually become a catalyst for positive changes in organisations. The survey found that among organisations in which HR has effectively resolved conflict, 57% have seen better ongoing problem solving, 31% increased motivation, 77% more tolerance of others, and 40% an increase in overall team performance.
Nipping conflicts in the bud
HR should take the following steps when conflicts arise, according to conflict resolution and communication specialist Edie Hester:
1. Impose a deadline to resolve the conflict. In a non-threatening way, make sure that your staff understand that when people waste time arguing, everyone loses eventually.
2. Have staff members find a common point they can agree on. When people are in disagreement, they often fail to see what they have in common, because they are only focusing on their differences. If you can get them to find commonality, staff are more likely begin working together to find a solution.
3. Encourage people to focus on what they are prepared to accept, rather than what the other person did ‘wrong’. When staff are in conflict, they will want to point the finger at the other person, rather than stating their needs.
4. Ask staff to specify their preferences, rather than making demands. Get them to prioritise preferences if there is more than one.
5. Reverse roles. Ask each person to consider the validity of the other person’s point of view. Each party may come to understand the other's viewpoint and reach a compromise.
6. Ask people to remain objective and professional when dealing with one another.
7. Reinforce employees' self-esteem. Don't let those who didn't get what they wanted feel like “losers” or that they were wrong.
8. When other efforts fail, use a third party to settle disputes. An objective mediator can assist with a solution that suits both parties.