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How to Deal with Conflict in the Workplace

Updated on June 19, 2013

Conflict between work colleagues can have a damaging effect on even the happiest of workplaces. Like any other part of an organisation's work, conflict requires careful management; yet managers are often reluctant to deal with the problem.

If conflict 'never' happens, it probably still exists but has been avoided. Hiding your head in the sand to remain unaware of any potential conflict, because of the unpleasantness that can result is not always a wise strategy.

Surprisingly, some managers, even with their elevated status, follow a conflict avoidance strategy says, Kate Oliver, an Occupational Psychologist working with large blue chip companies.

She says that, “working with managers in organisations at quite senior levels, we're continually amazed or increasingly less amazed at how reluctant managers are to bite the bullet and deal with conflict, or give feedback that they feel might result in conflict.

We see a lot of issues bubbling under, issues which have not been dealt with on a day to day basis”.

Those who lake the line of least resistance and avoid conflict have to accept the reality that conflict is inevitable in the best of relationships and organisations. Although things can be done to reduce the incidence and intensity of conflicts, it is unrealistic and even counter-productive to attempt to prevent all conflict.

Further, suppressing explicit expression of conflict merely drives it underground with greater individual and organisational costs.

Conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing and can have positive as well as negative effects. If you watch really effective teams operating, conflict is not avoided: it's managed and quite often leads to creativity. In fact, teams where everyone pussyfoots around each other to avoid conflict ever happening tend not to be very effective. There is a lack of ease with each other.

While avoidance may appear to be the conflict handling style of least resistance and less personal risk, there are dangers to both the individual and organisation.

From a personal perspective, failing to deal with conflict is likely to bring about significant increase in stress, 'Stress effects can be significant. In addition, individuals avoiding a conflict often act out in other ways, within the workplace and outside: e.g. bad-mouthing others privately, looking for ways to get even often at the expense of work performance, having lower individual, work performance, substance abuse, domestic and/or public violence.

When conflict isn't dealt with the organisation suffers too. 'When a manager avoids conflict, subordinates take advantage when issues of under- performance are not dealt with. This can lead to stress-related absences, pent-up anger in managers.

Organisations which deal with conflict up front rather than hoping it will disappear have more open communications, conscious co-operation among team members and increased productivity.


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    • Sara Algoe profile image

      Sara Algoe 5 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      I own a small business just 5 employees and some times i am just amazed by kind of politics that people play just to make themselves look good in boss's eyes.