Employee Conflict: Do Managers Have the Tools They Need?

It is no surprise that managers struggle to manage employee conflict.

Conflict. A powerful word that can inspire a variety of feelings – excitement, avoidance, fear to name a few. Conflict at work can be even more incendiary. Many of us have been in situations where we disagree with a colleague or manager, engage in power struggles, have a different perspective on the “right” way to go about completing a project or face challenging situations or have challenging people in our team.

The general perception is that conflict is a sign of dysfunction. However, modern research on organisational culture, teamwork, and leadership indicate that knowing how to navigate, and even encourage, healthy conflict at work can inspire greater productivity, engagement, and cohesion amongst your people.

With the manager/employee relationship highlighted as the number one influence on the employee experience, managers must have the tools they need to help them navigate interpersonal conflict.

However, according to recent research from Wiley only 57% report receiving training in the area (while 64% have had training on employee discipline).

What types of Conflict?
Wiley found that managers indicated that the issues they struggled with most were a combination of both performance and interpersonal issues.

Organisations may have a detailed process for how to manage conflict and behavioural issues, (such as coaching conversations, action plans, performance improvement plans, verbal warnings, formal disciplinary processes, etc.) and when engaged they can be somewhat effective in managing conflict, but are probably coming late and reversing behaviours can be difficult.

However, a more powerful way organisations can work towards creating a culture that embraces healthy conflict is by taking pre-emptive action.

By giving managers the skills they need to navigate conflict situations they theoretically need less disciplinary action and behaviour management, which is less effective than managing common workplace issues together. Training managers in how to navigate conflict successfully can result in situations that used to increase tensions being reduced significantly and sometimes can turn points of difference into points of opportunity to collaborate.