The impact of workplace conflict is significant. One statistic from a 2021 study suggests the average US employee spends 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflicts, which equates to $360 billion a year in paid effort.
On this topic, James And Lloyd discuss what team conflict looks like, and how some people can be the origin of conflict in the workplace.
They go into various examples of workplace conflict one might encounter.
And Lloyd shares several strategies and leadership techniques for addressing conflicts effectively.
Table of contents:
4. What do do about it
5. An ounce of prevention…
6. The process of mediation
7. This situation needs explaining…
8. The importance of catching up
9. The crucial thing for conflict managers
10. When the best tactic is avoidance
11. An ideal scenario: collaboration
12. Then there’s where you negotiate
13. What would you do in my place?
14. After the conflict is resolved
What constitutes a conflict?
Lloyd clarifies that they are primarily discussing workplace conflict, sharing an example from an e-commerce company with which he worked.
Different teams within the company—developers, designers, and marketers—all had their own focuses and goals for a product launch. As the deadline approached, the pressure to include each team’s input escalated, leading to rising conflict levels.
This type of well-intentioned conflict caused productivity and morale to drop, negatively impacting the team’s culture and potentially delaying the product launch. In this case, intervention was necessary, and the Director of Operations stepped in.
Lloyd emphasizes the importance of listening to everyone’s viewpoints to truly understand such a situation. Arbitration and prioritization were key in this scenario, as they made decisions on what features needed to be included in the product launch.
Not everyone could have their piece included, but it was explained why certain decisions were made, which helped maintain morale. Despite the initial conflict, the product was successfully launched, and a feedback loop was set up for future launches.
Lloyd cautions, however that not all conflicts are well-intentioned, hinting at a different category of conflicts that can happen in the workplace.
Recognizing the bad apples
James and Lloyd discuss the issue of problematic employees, or’ bad apples’, within an organization. James describes them as individuals who operate out of self-interest, often doing the bare minimum and negatively impacting the work environment.
James notes that in certain organizations, like public schools, it’s difficult to remove such employees, leading to conflict. He suggests that if allowed to persist, especially within high-performance teams, it may result in employee turnover.
Lloyd agrees, stating that short-term considerations sometimes lead to delayed action against these disruptive individuals. He gives the example of a toxic employee from an e-commerce company, who consistently shirked responsibility and approached issues with blame rather than collaboration.
Sometimes, says Lloyd, such employees even gain a sense of satisfaction from the trouble they cause.
Indeed, says James. Often these people receive attention or sympathy as a result of their actions. And if the business owner is overly sympathetic or protective of such employees, it can disrupt the entire organizational culture.
Lloyd affirms this – when other employees see someone getting away with such behavior, it can affect their own actions and morale. He highlights how productivity and morale improved significantly after they removed a problematic employee in the e-commerce company.
The kinds of conflict you might see
Lloyd discusses different kinds of workplace conflicts that business owners might face, and offers specific examples.
A. Personal conflict
The first type is personal conflict, which may stem from individual personality differences, such as extroverts versus introverts. These differences in communication styles might lead to misunderstandings and perceived lack of collaboration.
B. Cultural differences
The second type of conflict Lloyd mentions is related to cultural differences. The assertiveness typical of Western cultures, for instance, might be seen as rudeness by more indirect, “polite” Eastern cultures. Conversely, Westerners might interpret the indirectness of Eastern cultures as disinterest. This misunderstanding can create a significant cultural conflict in a diverse workplace.
C. Workstyle differences
The third type is work style differences. Here, Lloyd presents detailed, structured individuals, like operations folks and developers, versus spontaneous, adaptive people, such as visionaries and creatives. The contrasting approaches can lead to conflict as each side perceives the other as either too rigid or too erratic in their planning and execution.
D. Strategic differences
Lastly, Lloyd identifies strategic differences as a source of conflict. These usually arise from well-intentioned differences in approach to a common goal. For instance, in marketing, one team might want to focus on data-driven strategies, while another prefers a storytelling, creative approach. These different perspectives can lead to conflict that needs resolution.
What do do about it
Understanding and addressing various types of conflicts is crucial in managing a team effectively.
Lloyd suggests that recognizing the potential for conflict based on personality types, such as extroverts and introverts, can help in creating strategies to accommodate both. This could include organizing regular meetings with a set agenda, allowing individuals to know what to expect and to plan their contributions accordingly.
Lloyd also says that understanding how individuals prefer to communicate is key in fostering a cooperative environment. For instance, an introvert might not want to share their ideas in a large group setting. Therefore, creating avenues for team members to submit ideas individually can help ensure everyone feels comfortable contributing.
The approach to resolving conflicts should be tailored to the type of conflict. For instance, personal conflicts might require mediation or team-building exercises, whereas strategic conflicts may need clear decision-making processes. This structured approach can alleviate tension and move projects forward.
An ounce of prevention…
Lloyd says that seeing the potential for conflicts and taking measures to avoid them is crucial, echoing the saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
James points out that despite the effectiveness of prevention, conflict resolution tends to get more attention. He underscores like Lloyd that implementing systems and methodologies to anticipate and reduce potential conflicts is critical.
Additionally, thoughtful hiring practices, establishing clear company values, and providing mechanisms for reporting issues can all contribute to a healthier work environment.
The process of mediation
If it does come to intervention, Lloyd suggests beginning with separate conversations with the disputing parties. He emphasizes the importance of listening to both sides to fully understand the situation, before attempting to mediate between them. This prevents rushing into judgment based on individual accounts.
Lloyd goes further to establish some ground rules for conflict resolution. He advises that before a conflict is escalated to higher management, the conflicting parties should make an attempt to talk it out over a phone or video call, as text-based communication can lead to misunderstandings.
Training individuals to listen to the other side first is key, as it promotes better understanding of the other’s viewpoint and make for more effective communication.
James concurs, and encourages a structure where each person takes turns speaking and listening. This can prevent immediate emotional reactions and create a better understanding of the full context of the situation.
Both James And Lloyd highlight the need for patience, emotional intelligence, and clear communication in effective conflict mediation.
This situation needs explaining…
There are instances in conflict resolution where two parties cannot agree, and the end decision may result in someone leaving the team.
Lloyd stresses the importance of transparently communicating the reasons behind these decisions to the team, particularly if the move aligns with the company’s values. Such explanations can prevent rumors and ensure that everyone understands the reasoning involved.
James agrees – when someone leaves, it’s crucial to gather the entire team and discuss the event openly and promptly.
James further suggests redistributing a portion of the leaving person’s salary to the remaining team members, as a token of gratitude for their increased workload. Coupled with a message acknowledging their willingness to step up, this approach can foster a positive association, where those who act against the team’s interests leave while those who contribute positively get rewarded.
In James’ experience, this method is usually successful and can sometimes even eliminate the need to replace the person who left.
The importance of catching up
Lloyd places great importance on one-to-one catch-ups with team members, to both prevent conflicts and manage them if they arise. Regular communication, he argues, can keep a pulse on underlying issues or simmering tension, and helps in aligning team members with their goals.
Such individual check-ins, says Lloyd, are often neglected in many businesses, which can lead to problems later on.
In line with Lloyd’s perspective, James compares regular catch-ups to a temperature check using an Oura ring, which detects changes in body temperature to alert the wearer of potential illness. Just as this ring senses physical changes, frequent communication with team members can help identify potential conflicts or issues.
To facilitate this, James would cultivate strong connections with members of his team through various activities, say a walk or a coffee, keeping him informed about ongoing team dynamics.
The crucial thing for conflict managers
Among the crucial skills for a conflict manager, Lloyd emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence. A person in a leadership position should not only focus on task completion, but also be aware of the emotional states of their team members. They should possess the ability to de-escalate tense situations and handle conflicts in a mindful and constructive manner.
James had a boss who lacked these skills. It was understandably a more peaceful work environment when said boss was away.
Can Lloyd provide a practical playbook or framework for managing conflicts, he asks?
When the best tactic is avoidance
Lloyd obliges with a number of approaches.
First is the tactic of avoidance in conflict management. He and James agree that sometimes it’s best to avoid unnecessary conflict altogether. They highlight that, while not always applicable, avoidance can be useful in both personal and professional contexts.
James recalls a former boss and people in his personal life who effectively avoid conflict by not reacting. This approach, he says, often allows issues to fade away on their own.
James also shares a personal experience, where he resisted price negotiation for a surfboard he was selling. He simply rejected the low offer made to him, resulting in the bidder paying his full price for the board.
There’s wisdom, James concludes, in choosing one’s battles wisely, and Lloyd agrees: not every conflict warrants an investment of time and energy.
An ideal scenario: collaboration
The ideal scenario in a conflict, says Lloyd, is collaboration. Yet it has its drawbacks.
Lloyd points out that collaboration often involves compromise, which can lead to skewed decision-making if consistently dominated by the same individuals. He cautions leaders to be aware of those who dominate the decision-making process, and to ensure collaboration is genuine.
Conflict, Lloyd believes, has a place within the framework of collaboration. He explains that both sides in a conflict need to articulate their needs, particularly in situations with multiple factors, impending deadlines, and the need to make crucial decisions.
James further highlights the potential benefits of conflict, citing Steve Jobs’ reputation for debate and challenge as a means of driving innovation.
Lloyd proposes a framework for resolving deadlock situations: a decision-maker chooses a direction and those who disagree must commit nonetheless.
Then there’s where you negotiate
Lloyd and James delve into the topic of negotiation, particularly its role in collaboration and compromise. Lloyd believes negotiation can be healthy but cautions against letting it escalate, implying the potential need for arbitration or mediation.
James questions the explicit term “negotiation” in conversations, considering it counterproductive, especially in sales situations. He suggests a more collaborative approach of “bringing everyone to the table” to find mutually agreeable outcomes.
They turn to the importance of listening in negotiations. Lloyd references Chris Voss, an ex-FBI hostage negotiator, who stressed understanding the needs and wants of the other party.
A clear grasp of these factors could lead to finding common ground, and facilitate more effective negotiations.
What would you do in my place?
Lloyd shares an anecdote on a successful negotiation method used by Joe Biden during his pre-presidential years.
While dealing with a more senior Russian official, Biden asked what the official would do if he were in Biden’s place. This perspective shift led the official to empathize with Biden and give him some concessions.
Lloyd highlights the effectiveness of this technique in promoting understanding and gaining cooperation from others, even in potentially contentious circumstances.
Lloyd has used the approach himself professionally. He had a client who was frustrated by late deliverables from a business partner but who didn’t want to damage their good relationship.
Lloyd advised him to explain his viewpoint and ask what the partner would do in his position. This led the partner to propose a practical solution, to the benefit of Lloyd’s client.
After the conflict is resolved
And what about the aftermath of conflict resolution?
It’s important, says Lloyd, to maintain communication and monitoring to ensure conflicts don’t resurface. He suggests regular check-ins, prompt attention to any emerging issues, and maintaining open lines of communication with all parties involved.
Just as important is reinforcing a positive culture in business settings.
If you have questions on this episode’s topic, Lloyd welcomes your email at [email protected].
And for help mobilizing people and systems to realize your business vision, check out VirtualDOO.com
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