3 Big Reasons To Fix Your Inability To Resolve Workgroup Conflicts

August 8, 2020


Have you ever met someone that loved conflict? Hard to believe, but there are people out there who thrive in it and even like to create it. I, however, hate conflict. I am one of those people who, when conflict arises, tries to solve it as quickly as possible to ease my anxiety. Of course, many of my attempts to quickly put out conflict fires don’t turn out great. But, at least I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this because, in a dataset of over 1.4 million assessments of leaders, the behavior that was rated the ABSOLUTE lowest was “resolves conflict within the workgroup.”

Do you feel better about yourself now?

Tell your friends, relatives, coworkers, or significant others that lots of people have this problem with effectively resolving conflicts.

Reasons Why You Need to Quickly Resolve Workgroup Conflicts

1.     Employees become very dissatisfied with the organization.

The problem with conflict, regardless of who is creating the conflict, is that conflict negativity affects everyone. The mood between a team can quickly sour if everyone is walking on eggshells around “Karen.” As the manager, you need to talk to Karen. You may be afraid, and she may yell at you, but the conflict must be resolved. Why? Because when leaders rated poorly (bottom 10%) at resolving conflict, direct reports rated their satisfaction with this company as a good place to work at the 30th percentile! (This result is based on 96,564 managers being rated by, on average, by five direct reports.)

2.     Conflicts breed a loss of trust in leaders.

This is one of those facts that may seem obvious, but I will say it clearly for everyone to understand: conflict erodes trust. Just in case you need something to convince on this point, consider this study. My colleague Jack Zenger and I looked at 96,596 leaders rated by their direct reports on the extent they were trusted and their ability to resolve conflict in the workgroup. Leaders who were rated as very poor on resolving conflict were also rated at the 17th percentile on trust.

3.     Employee’s discretionary effort decreases dramatically when conflict is not resolved.

In the study below, we examined data from 96,581 leaders who were assessed on their ability to resolve conflict. We then looked at the direct report’s willingness to give extra effort or to “go the extra mile.” Note that as a leader’s ability to resolve conflict increases, so does the percentage of direct reports willing to give extra effort. The effect of this is a dramatic increase in productivity.

Think of the everyday conflicts that cause problems among a team. John comes into work late every day. Mike frequently takes a two-hour lunch break. Jared sends way too many long emails. Jen loudly talks about her personal life on her phone. Adam whines about any extra assignment he is given. If you ignore all these conflicts, eventually people will forget about them, and they’ll go away. I wish this statement were true, but it is not. Be aware that any conflict in a workgroup may be hurting your performance and ultimately negatively impacting your career. Regardless of your position, who’s right and who’s wrong, you should be committed to helping resolve the conflict. Conflicts can be caused by poor performance, inaccurate expectations, poor communications, personal traits, incompatible values or lack of resources. Whatever the cause, be determined to resolve the conflict.

Now, it’s time to have the conversation.

Steps in Conflict Resolution

1.     Communication. Get everyone involved talking.

2.     Listening. Ensure that each person is correctly hearing what the other person is saying.

3.     Implications. Describe the negative effects of the conflict. Have each person describe how the conflict negatively impacts getting the job done and how it affects their stress and feelings about work and satisfaction.

4.     Solutions. Ask each person for potential solutions to resolve the conflict. Brainstorm additional ideas because often having at least three ideas will yield a better solution.

5.     Commitment. Have each person make a personal commitment to resolving the conflict and set a deadline for change.

I hope you find this research and the outlined steps helpful. Resolving conflict is a life skill that can’t be ignored without creating negative consequences. Muster up your courage, plan your conversation, and go talk to Karen.