More than likely, your office setting is filled with many employees who comprise just as many diversities in terms of their skills, strengths and weaknesses, cultural norms and backgrounds. These people also come with their own set of unique ideas, communication styles, habits, and ethics. According to Forbes, a staggering 60 – 80% of challenges and difficulties within organizations stem from tense or difficult relationships among employees.
Despite the negative connotations surrounding conflict, when correctly handled, it can lead to growth and creativity within the workplace. What matters is not so much that conflict exists, but that it is appropriately managed. Teams that can ‘get over themselves’ in strategically handling conflict will successfully engender long-term synergies.
In this two-part article, we cover some of the common types of conflict situations that arise in the workplace and consider appropriate measures that can be taken to reach a resolution.
Let us now examine a few case scenarios involving working effectively with others.
Typical conflict scenario 1 – Professional differences of opinion: my new boss wants to change everything
It often happens that differences of opinion may occur between individuals working together purely because everyone wants to do things the way they think is right. For instance, a new manager who joins an established team that up until now appears to have been running as a well-oiled machine, might come in with a whole new system of working that they think will improve efficiencies. They finds that they meet with resistance on the part of the team that does not want to change their routines and that collectively believes that the way that things are done should not be changed. However, this is a double-edged sword since, in all likelihood, part of the new manager’s mandate may involve the task of radically improving outcomes, which has nothing to do with intentionally wanting to disrupt the team and they may be quite justified in implementing new processes.
Encountering resistance to change is a normal human reaction. What the new manager should endeavor to do is not attempt to implement changes without first sitting the team down and counselling them through the reasons why and do so in such a manner that the team members do not feel threatened or insecure.
Typical conflict scenario 2 – When things get personal: the other teams are unfriendly ‘cliques’
When any group of individuals spend a lot of time together and differences of opinion arise in the normal course of business, sometimes things get personal. They say that you can’t choose your family members but you can choose your friends. Likewise, you can’t choose your colleagues but you can learn to be tolerant.
So, it happened one day that my manager gave me the task of coordinating a project that involved my having to enlist the help of four other teams. In my department there are five teams that service the different advertising portfolios of dedicated business units. It always seems like an ‘us versus them’ situation when teams gang up on each other and each team appears to operate as a ‘clique’. Approaching certain members of the other teams is often met with a feeling that they are unhelpful and stand-offish, and it seems that they take great pleasure in ganging up on specific individuals purely because they do not like them. As it turned out, no one from the other teams would co-operate with me. I was forced to escalate the problem to my manager who then, by using negotiation tactics, had to approach the heads of the other teams to try to resolve the situation. Here, we are typically faced with feelings of insecurity. The outcome was such that a new process needed to be put in place to implement formalities and rules to get individuals to comply.
Typical conflict scenario 3 – Work style issues: just because I leave work earlier than the others doesn’t mean I am not committed
There’s no doubt about it. We are all different which means that invariably work style habits too vary. For instance, the office early bird who comes in two hours before the day is scheduled to start often makes those that arrive at work on time feel uncomfortable. Likewise, when certain individuals habitually work late merely because they can, in the face of others who need to leave work on schedule (to take care of family responsibility issues for example), the perception is created that those who do not put in the ‘visible extra hours’ are not doing their jobs properly.
‘Steady’ versus ‘Dominating’
Certain individuals may work with ‘Steadiness”, that is, they like to take time to think things through before making a comment or decision while others are more ‘Dominating’ which means that they make decisions quickly and offer opinions freely. The steady individuals are often perceived to be slow while those that jump in feet first are seen to be impulsive. Here, these very different individuals who operate at different ends of the introversion/extroversion scale would be well advised to seek to understand each other better and one way to do this is by cultivating a higher degree of emotional intelligence. Those that possess a highly-developed sense of emotional intelligence are better equipped to understand and tolerate the different ways in which others behave.
The ‘independent operator’ versus the ‘team collaborator’
Again, other work styles exist such as the ‘independent operator,’ who prefers to work alone on their assigned tasks while the ‘team collaborator’ likes to execute their tasks in a team setting with more interaction. This leads to perceptions that those who quietly execute their tasks in the corner are not good team players, while those who are constantly in collaboration appear to be noisy and disruptive. Mitigating issues such as these requires openness and honesty which means that good communication among these employees is paramount. For instance, if a colleague does not work overtime due to transport issues and simply cannot get home at a later stage, it helps that the team is made aware of these things so that the individual concerned feels more secure and less threatened by others who may make remarks such as “Are you working half-day again today?”
‘Work style issues’ can be managed when properly understood. The key is to get to know your colleagues and why they do what they do. A manager or supervisor would be well advised to engage staff in specific activities to promote a better understanding of the styles and habits of the different members of the team.
Helen Fenton: Senior Analyst, Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTi) – www.boti.co.za.
Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTI) is a Johannesburg based, Level 1 BBBEE business. As a Services and MICT SETA accredited company, we have trained thousands of individuals from over 650 companies and our extensive course offering consists of Short Courses, Soft Skills Training and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Learnership Programs. In addition, we offer bespoke training programs designed to cater to specific business needs. Our training courses are focused on knowledge and skills transfer and we pride ourselves in being able to provide training anytime, anywhere across South Africa.