Failure to speak up about concerns, or inability to properly deal with conflict, can have real financial consequences. Encouraging candid dialogue can reduce tensions and boost productivity.
Managers spend a considerable amount of their time resolving conflict and other nonproductive behavior, and that’s unlikely to change. But there are two ways to reduce it.
Some conflicts are hot, simmering with hurt feelings, suspicion and verbal sparring. However, most workplace conflict is cold. Resentments are clutched close to the vest, disagreements are quietly acted out rather than talked out, and mistrust is passed in whispers to third parties rather than confronted face to face.
Research by corporate training and organizational performance company VitalSmarts shows that 95 percent of the workforce struggles to confront colleagues and managers about concerns and frustrations. As a result, workers engage in resource-sapping avoidance tactics including ruminating excessively about crucial issues, complaining to others, getting angry, doing extra or unnecessary work and avoiding the other person altogether.
For example, VitalSmarts asked managers at a nonprofit firm with offices across Central America this question: “If you could say anything to your headquarters’ leaders without fear of reprisal, what would you say?”
One Nicaraguan manager’s response illustrates the cost of silence in organizations. “I would tell them to stop making us offer training to all of our clients,” he said. “These working poor can’t afford to waste time, but we force them to endure six weeks of training that makes no difference in helping them improve their incomes.”
If true, this manager was saying his staff wastes about 30 percent of their time and budget on a failed activity. Worse, they undermine their customers and mission at the same time.
While this example is extreme, research shows these kinds of conflicts are common. In its 2010 “Cost of Conflict Avoidance” study, VitalSmarts found employees waste an average of $1,500 and an eight-hour workday for every crucial conversation they avoid. In extreme cases of avoidance, an organization’s bottom line can be hit especially hard. The study found that 8 percent of employees estimate their inability to deal with an uncomfortable issue costs their organization more than $10,000. Further, one in 20 estimate that during the course of a drawn-out silent conflict, they waste time ruminating about the problem for more than six months.