POSTED: July 13 2020
Managing conflict in the workplace

Managing conflict in the workplace

The CIPD’s latest research on conflict found that just over a third (35%) of employees experienced some form of conflict over the past year, ranging from an isolated incident, sexual harassment/bullying to an ongoing difficult relationship.
But much more widespread are, according to the CIPD’s senior adviser on employee relations, Rachel Suff, instances of “lower-level conflict that can create a breeding ground for the serious incidents or bullying”.

The rise of social media, means employees are making themselves heard, more than ever. It is great that employees feel they can speak up, but as soon as you have a more honest environment, managers and HR need to be better equipped, trained with the skills to deal with difficult conversations and have the right tools for doing so. Quite often managers are scared and as a result can let things fester through avoidance or go to a formal process too quickly.

Pressures outside of work e.g. wages, teams feeling like they have to achieve more with less, political instability, insecurities and differences of opinion among colleagues on Brexit – these are all factors that can lead to a sense of more friction at work.

Psychologist Kisane Prutton calls this ‘asymmetrical unhappiness’ – instances of accumulating conflict that may not result in a formal grievance or mediation, but chip away at Company’s culture.

There seems to be a misconception between managers and employees regarding the experience encountered when dealing with a workplace conflict situation. The CIPD’s latest research on conflict states fewer than half (44%) of those who had experienced conflict felt the situation had been satisfactorily resolved, and almost a third (31%) said the person they reported it to did not take it seriously. A quarter of employees felt challenging issues like bullying and harassment were often swept under the carpet.

If companies wish to prevent conflict from escalating, the CIPD report argues “People professionals have a vital part to play in ensuring conflict is understood in all its nuanced complexity, and that organisations give it the strategic attention it deserves,” it states. “It means understanding that situations and decisions involving people are not always clear-cut, there are lots of shades of grey and a strict adherence to procedure is unlikely to produce the best outcome.”

More focus needs to be directed to employment relations as an HR discipline in order to reduce conflict in the workplace, the report adds, and company’s should consider making it an integral part of the HR professional’s role/line manager’s, rather than a ‘nice to have’ skillset they attempt to deploy reacting to a situation.

Regardless of who is experiencing this sort of two-way conflict, empathy is really important. Encourage managers to ask the right questions. Rather than focusing on someone’s to-do list, ask them what’s the one thing that’s keeping them awake? If someone’s feeling vulnerable, how can you change you support them.

More important than the right questions, listening to the responses is vital.

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