Workplace Conflict

imagesHave you ever been angry with someone, dashed off an angry e-mail, and hit “send” without stopping to edit your hostile words? What happened? Did it help the situation? For one writer, the answer was a resounding “no.” After a co-worker had repeatedly critiqued the writer’s proposal at company meetings, the writer impulsively sent him an e-mail saying, “You really have no idea what you are talking about. Can you stop blocking the project”? Soon after, the writer’s boss learned about the e-mail, and the proposed project was stalled. For weeks the writer feared for his job. (Read the full story here.)

For many of us, modern technology has changed how we handle conflict. Rather than speaking face-to-face with those we are upset with, we send an angry text or e-mail. In the heat of the moment, the ease of technology, and its offer of quick communication without an actual exchange of words, lures us in.

Yet the risks are huge. Your rushed and angry words are the modern equivalent of a below-the-belt blow. You are able to spew your vitriol without having to look the other person in the eye. And because you are choosing not to communicate face-to-face, you don’t have the opportunity to explain your words, soften them, or apologize. Instead, the receiver of your words may very well interpret your words in the worst possible way, hold a grudge, and perhaps send back an inflammatory response. The conflict will likely heat up.

Of course, with face-to-face communication, things can also go awry. We’ve all had at least one, probably several, screaming matches in our lives. And yet, there are a few reasons why the face-to-face discussions often turn out better. One reason is that when you have to face the person you’re upset with, and look that person in the eye, you’re likely to choose your words carefully. Second, with face-to-face communication, people can read your tone, and are less likely to misunderstand you. And if they do misunderstand you, you can correct that error quickly. Third, when you are speaking directly to the person you’re in conflict with, you don’t get to hold the floor forever. At some point you have to listen to the other person’s point of view, and through that exchange of perspectives, there’s a good chance the two of you will come to an understanding.

In the rare case that you do decide to send an e-mail when you are angry, read it over several times and save it as a draft. Ponder it for a while and perhaps revise it. If upon re-reading it you find you have blamed the other person, or pointed fingers, revise the
e-mail again. In your new draft, explain why the other person’s actions were hard for you. And if there is something you’d like the other person to do differently in the future, express that request.


What is Conflict Coaching?

Conflict Coaching is a one-on-one process designed to help individuals more effectively engage in conflict. During a conflict coaching session, the coach helps the individual understand a particular conflict from a different perspective, and assists the individual in finding and assessing options for resolution. A conflict coach can also help an individual learn techniques for more productively engaging in conflict.

Why Should My Company Offer Conflict Coaching?

Let’s face it: Conflict happens. Even the best run companies encounter conflict in the workplace. Competition for promotions, an increased workload, a change in job assignments, fear of lay-offs, are all factors that can lead to conflict. While we cannot avoid conflict, we can learn to better manage conflict. Conflict coaching does just that; it can help employees better manage conflict in the workplace.

Can Conflict Coaching Save My Company Money?

While all would agree that conflict in the workplace is difficult to manage, what is less known is that conflict in the workplace creates significant costs to businesses. Indeed, researcher Daniel Dana, who promotes the use of workplace mediation, has noted that “[u]nresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized.” (Dana, Daniel (1999). Based on a review of sociological research, the Centre for Conflict Resolution notes the kinds of costs that can result from unresolved workplace conflict: grievances, litigation, reduced morale, employee turnover, lowered productivity, absenteeism and accidents.

Why Can’t My Human Resources Department Resolve Workplace Conflict?

In some cases, Human Resource Departments can effectively manage conflict, particularly if the HR specialists are well trained. In other cases, however, the employee may not see the HR specialist as a neutral party, and will instead see the HR specialist as biased in favor of management. In such a case, it may be more effective to use a neutral third party to manage the conflict.

How Do I Decide Whether to Use Conflict Coaching or Mediation?

Although conflict coaching and mediation can both be effective in reducing conflict in the workplace, they play different roles. First, conflict coaching is the appropriate choice when only one party to a conflict is interested in having a discussion about the conflict. Since mediation is a voluntary process, the reluctant individual cannot be forced into mediation. Second, conflict coaching is the right choice when an individual needs help in resolving a conflict but is not ready for an actual discussion with the other party. Finally, conflict coaching can be very effective in readying parties for mediation. The coaching process can help parties identify what they are looking to get out of mediation and prepare them for a discussion about their concerns with the other party.

Mediation is the right choice when both parties to a conflict are ready for discussion but are unable to do so on their own. The structure of mediation allows both parties a chance to be fully heard but also keeps the parties moving in the direction of resolution.


A Sample Workplace Mediation

May 16, 2012

This video, from England, involves two managers, whose very different working styles lead them into conflict. The mediation helps them address these differences and find new ways of working that meet both of their needs.

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Workplace Conflict: Conflict Training, Conflict Coaching, and Mediation, as Solutions

October 17, 2011

How often do you experience conflict at work? According to a poll by Civility in America, 43% of American workers have experienced incivility and 38% say there is increasing disrespect in the workplace. An additional survey, commissioned by CPP, Inc., indicates that employees around the world deal with conflict, on average, 2.1 hours a week, […]

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Video About Workplace Mediation

June 7, 2011

Here is a helpful link to a video to learn more about workplace mediation:

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