Conflict in the workplace costs the UK economy dearly. Conflict outside the workplace generates huge amounts of wasted time and unhelpful emotions.
According to the Report Fight, Flight or Face It (OPP, 2008), “the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict. For the UK alone, that translates to 370 million working days lost every year as a result of conflict in the workplace” (p.4).
The same report suggests that in the UK perhaps we conform to our international stereotype of bottling up our emotions. It found that 65% of UK employees “… admit to feeling anger or frustration in the face of conflict at work”, compared with 57% across the nine countries surveyed in the study (p.19). Furthermore, 30% of UK respondents reported that conflict has resulted in an absence from work – compared with 25% across all respondents.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey Report Leadership and the Management of Conflict at Work, (CIPD, 2008), found that 44% of the 660 HR respondents reported that they have to manage disputes at work “frequently or continually” (p.4). It also reports that 28% of the respondents “… admit to having left a job as a result of conflict at work” (p.7).
So why don’t we address it more often?
I think that there are three main reasons:
1) We often worry about whether we can handle it effectively
2) We have concerns about how the other person(s) will react.
3) We’ve got more important things to do (at least, that’s what we tell ourselves).
Well, here’s a way to do it that helps out with points 1 and 2 (and if you needed convincing that it’s not an important issue, the statistics I mentioned earlier should have helped). It’s a model called CUDSA – and it gives a structure to discussions. And following a structure will reduce the chance of unhelpful emotions getting in the way.
Confront the behaviour – it may well be that the person is aware of what they are doing, however, it is often not the case. Where a person displays unhelpful behaviour on a regular basis, it is easy to make the assumption that they must know that they are causing conflict – but it would be wrong to do so. I have come across situations on several occasions where everyone has assumed (or perhaps hoped) that someone else has already given feedback and therefore not addressed it. Often the person appreciates being made aware of the issue.
Understand each other’s position – the most important stage. If this isn’t carried out thoroughly and openly, the remainder of the discussion and any solution will not last very long. There will almost certainly be new information as you discuss this – in situations of conflict we often make judgements about the other person that may well not be based on fact – this stage addresses such potentially devisive issues.
Define the problem – once you have all the information and fully understand each other’s position, you will be able to define the problem. This needs to be achieved objectively and succinctly. Write it down so you record it clearly.
Search for a solution – list all the possible solutions, even if they seem a bit off the wall. Some might initially not seem workable, but they might generate further ideas from the other person. The more you come up with, the more chance you have of arriving at a really effective one.
Agree a way forward – Having reached this far, and if you have carried out the previous stages thoroughly, this final stage should be relatively straight forward. You will have built up increased rapport with the other person and may well see them in a different, more positive, light. Be specific about your way forward – and if what you agree is going to impact on others, let them know what you are going to do – it will increase your likelihood of success. Finally, fix a date to meet again to see how it’s going – this will help ensure the buy-in of all concerned.
Have a go. You can make a huge impact on your business and on the effectiveness of individuals. And you will develop and improve your own skills!