The £24bn cost of conflict in the work place
By Julia Pitt
Conflict, its all around us: a run-in with someone at the grocery store who steals your parking spot, a dispute in the boardroom, family members not seeing eye-to-eye, gangs in the midst of turf wars.
What is at the root of the conflict we find ourselves in? And what price are we paying for it?
Conflict can occur at every level, be it between individuals, within groups and teams, within an organisation and at societal level. It arises when one party feels like another party has, or is about to negatively affect something the first party cares about through an incompatibility of goals/desires/viewpoints and opposing behaviours. Basically its a difference between the wants or expectations of one person/group as opposed to another.
As we are all different and want different things, conflict is inevitable. This is not bad news, it is a reality. A certain amount of conflict, managed well, can actually be healthy and have energising and positive outcomes. These might include:
* highlighting where changes can and need to be made and developing the creativity and flexibility to make them collaborative;
* promoting mutual understanding of different values, cultures, mindsets etc;
* clarifying peoples understanding of their real goals and interests and finding common ground between them;
* developing communication skills and relationship-building as people learn to get on despite differences.
However, unresolved conflict can escalate and have far-reaching negative consequences that can be costly and damaging such as:
* peoples energies and focus being diverted from them being productive;
* festering negative energy creates an atmosphere people dont want to be in;
* motivation and morale plummet;
* suspicion and mistrust pervade and status and ego supersede reason;
* resistance rather than teamwork;
* others take sides and stereotyping and prejudices begin to take root;
* poor decisions are made;
* stress, health problems and illness result (extended absence);
* money and resources need to be diverted to deal with the conflict (mediation, arbitration, legal costs etc) .
Listed like this they may sound like workplace issues, but these negative outcomes of conflict can apply to any relationship, organisation or wider society.
Negative conflict is a huge energy, time and money stealer.
In 2008, CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personal Development) reported that conflict cost UK businesses £24 billion (approximately $38 billion) per year, with 370 million working days lost to it.
On a personal level, how much time and energy do we individually lose to conflict (dwelling on it, avoiding it or solving it)? How much money in this Country is spent on legal fees resolving disputes and divorces? What is the toll on our health from the stress and anxiety attached to ongoing conflict? What is the collateral damage of conflict? Tarnishing organisations? Breaking up families? Causing rifts in society?
So, how does conflict arise and how do we prevent it from costing us so dearly?
Here are some common sources of conflict:
Perceptual differences — we each see things differently based on our background, experiences and how we filter and make sense of the world. There is no reality as such, only perception and our perspectives can differ as a result of gender, age, personality traits/preferences, culture, etc.
Poor communication — if people are unable to express themselves, verbalise their needs, or listen to others effectively, it can lead to frustration and misunderstanding which feeds the conflict loop.
Limited resources (money, time, status, power etc) when one wants more of it, potentially at the others expense.
Roles/structure/boundaries/interdependent relationships — if any of these are ambiguous and people dont have a clear idea of what is expected of them/their team, what the common goals are or how they fit into the bigger picture, this leads to confusion, a loss of responsibility and an everyone for themselves attitude can develop.
Violation of territory — people need a sense of belonging and a place to operate well from. This is as important in a work environment as it is in a home or a neighbourhood.
Change — whether imposed or initiated, unless it is managed and led well, change can create conflict.
So, knowing that these are sources of conflict, what can we put in place to minimise their negative impact? Prevention is better than cure
When coaching around conflict, I would concentrate on developing the following areas (again, these sound corporate-based but can be applied to any situation):
* Communication processes in place to ensure that people feel well communicated with and feel heard;
* Team work and team-building to promote understanding and the inclusion of a wide range of personalities, preferences and perspectives;
* Strong leadership which promotes the acceptance of and positive perception of difference as adding value;
* Distributing resources, how can more people be satisfied by the available resources;
* Ensuring that policies and procedures are seen to be fair and equal;
* Clarifying goals, objectives, expectations and roles, and getting people to work together, understanding the wider goals and how they can contribute to that common success.
Conflict can be a costly canker or can be extremely beneficial to growth, it all depends on how it is addressed. What measures can you put in place to prevent conflict being a problem for you?
Next week, working towards resolution.
Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner. For further information telephone 705-7488 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com.
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