If leaders take the necessary steps and notice the right cues, they can help avoid or mitigate workplace conflicts.
Some leaders may stand on the sidelines as workplace conflicts play out because they think they can’t make everyone get along, but ignoring clashes in the office may have a bigger impact down the line.
“[In some organizations, this type of] behavior is tolerated and unaddressed by people at all levels of the organization for a period, if not explicitly encouraged,” said Richard D. Hart, respectful workplace specialist at ProActive ReSolutions, a workplace conflict resolution company. “Over time, the behavior and related impact escalate to a point that others are finally forced to pay attention – the proverbial last straw.”
Hart typically assists leaders who are dealing with disruptive and disrespectful employees. The scenarios are fairly similar each time: Employees are involved in chronic, long-term, “low-level behaviors,” such as failing to respond, rolling of the eyes, avoiding eye contact, sarcasm and belittling, Hart said.
Preventing this type of behavior requires leaders to focus on people’s actions, not their feelings, personalities, perception, beliefs, values, expectations and other things – not because they aren’t important, but because it’s difficult for an organization to change such traits, Hart said.
What matters most is how the employees work as a group. “People’s behavior in a workgroup is both the best predictor of conflict and the best indicator of conflict,” Hart said.
Once people stop communicating because conflict has occurred, an organization can see effects on the bottom line. The company may lose employees or lose out on productivity because certain employees don’t or can’t work together.
“People who don’t like each other who are having difficulty and are in conflict with each other typically aren’t talking to each other,” said Tim Scudder, CEO of Personal Strengths USA, a workplace conflicts consulting company and author of Have a Nice Conflict. “They’re not sharing information. They’re not collaborating. It can start to create the silo effect where we’re solving problem[s] only for ourselves without solving problems for the broader team. When those types of small problems become common inside an organization, it really starts to affect the whole culture.”