5 Insights on Conflict Management in the Workplace

Conflict is inevitable, it can be harnessed and it can be managed however it cannot be avoided permanently. This week The Society of Professional Mediators has collated interesting insights from a research piece commissioned by CPP Global in an effort to understand global attitudes to workplace conflict. The research project was carried out in May 2008 and it sought to analyse attitudes to conflict over a sample of 5000 full-time employees in nine countries (around Europe and the Americas

  1. Most Managers overestimate their ability to handle conflict: According to the research, managers scored themselves highly on their ability to manage conflict however this contrasted with lower scores from non-managerial employees on how effective managers were in addressing conflict. In one sample 43% of non-managerial employees believed managers did not handle conflict as well as they should, in comparison to 23% of managers who thought they handled conflict well

  2. Training on conflict management helps but only if it is effective: US and UK tend to train employees on conflict management however 39% of the sample said training provided no help in helping them to manage conflict. This suggests that conflict management training needs to be tailored to meet the real issues/ causes of conflict specific to the organisation to help build confidence in handling conflict. Interestingly in the UK, although employees mostly maintained they had no experience of being involved in a conflict which has escalated, two thirds of the sample admitted to feeling angry and frustrated due to a conflict at work.

  3. Conflict in the workplace is mostly triggered by personality clashes: 49% of the sample identified personality clashes as a key trigger, stress and workload where identified by 34% and 33% respectively. This suggests that more emphasis has to be made on dealing with different personalities and or enhancing self-awareness in relation to conflict management styles. In commercial conflict situations, warring egos tend to contribute majorly to disagreements however this research highlights that this may also have a huge role to play in workplace disputes.

  4. Gender & age have an impact on responses to conflict in the workplace: Interestingly the research found that women were more likely to seek support externally for dealing with conflict. Men tend to focus on self -sufficiency in dealing with conflict. In some instances women tend to also self-train to manage conflict. Maturity tends to factor into approaches in dealing with conflict too, as older employees seem to adopt forbearance in dealing with conflict i.e. they try not to be too affected by conflict.

  5. Most employees believe conversation is key to managing conflict: When asked what managers can do to effectively address conflict at work, a large percentage of the sample opted for options around mediation, informal conversations with the people involved, or clarity over what is expected. Disciplinary routes did not factor highly in the responses. Majority of the sample 54% preferred an early approach to addressing conflict by confronting underlying tensions directly.

Overall, the research highlights the fact that there are massive similarities to experiences around conflict across global locations. The consensus is that conflict must be dealt with at an early stage. Individuals need training to enhance their confidence in dealing with conflict and to be more self aware of their individual blind spots.

Depending on the nature of the conflict, countries tend to either adopt a therapy based approached to conflict which focuses on supporting those in conflict, a proactive approach which aims to equip individuals with conflict management skills or a more passive approach which tends to be reactive.

An interesting insight is that, a company’s approach to conflict directly affects how individuals view conflict. Where employees are trained in conflict management, they tend to see conflict as a catalyst for change of some sort depending on how it is harnessed. However where companies are more passive employees tend to avoid conflict which one may argue can be more detrimental in the long term.

This article is based on the finding from the CPP research detailed here https://www.cpp.com/pdfs/CPP_Global_Human_Capital_Report_Workplace_Conflict.pdf

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