Manage Conflicts for Higher Productivity

“The better able team members are to engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret, and respond constructively, the more likely their teams are to leverage conflict rather than be levelled by it.”- Runde and Flanagan

Completely getting rid of conflict in any realm of life is neither possible nor is it a good idea. In business, which has a plethora of targets and goals, the ability to manage conflicts should be the aim. Ignoring conflicts or hoping that they would dissipate on their own makes for very poor business sense since this almost never happens. It is crucial to manage conflicts such that they do not become bigger than they were and therefore detract from the company’s goals of higher productivity and profitability. Managers and leaders should have training and be equipped to manage conflicts and all those working within a company must receive training to understand and appreciate differences, which in turn would mean fewer conflicts and lowered stress.

The strange truth is that when each one learns to understand and manage conflicts, workplace conflicts can actually have some advantages. Conflicts force people to discuss and bring nagging subtle issues to the forefront and in turn enhance negotiation and conversations between co-workers. Conflicts ensure that the workforce does not become complacent or take the work or co-workers for granted. Being able to manage conflicts increases the opportunities for people to realize the challenges and obstacles of others in the office and respect them for managing their tasks well. When everything is moving along smoothly, even if it is only on the surface, people tend to forget the contributions and efforts of others. Conflicts shake people out of their reverie but it is crucial to manage conflicts such that the outcome is positive with the least possible disruptions in the workflow.

Conflicts, when left unchecked, can become the worst nightmare for the managers and leaders. They cause stress, lower productivity and frustrate the workforce to such an extent that the annoyance spills over to the company’s customers leading to poor customer service and product quality. The fact is that there will be people within the company that make things difficult for others and contribute to conflicts. However, it is critical to manage conflicts and the ‘malefactors’ such that they do not override the good culture and stress free workplace that your company is striving to maintain.

For higher productivity and enhanced product and service quality, it is vital to manage conflicts. However, in order to do so, conflicts must be identifiable. In its most basic form, conflicts could be in the form of negativity, unacceptability of diversity, annoyances between co-workers and other such imperceptible conflicts but which have the potential to turn ugly and big. In its extreme form, conflicts between the senior leaders and management could quickly become devastating and hence it would be prudent to keep a check on such situations and manage conflicts before they sap every ounce of energy and wipe out every resource of the company. Does your company face these situations and if so, how do you manage conflicts such that they disappear from the root?

The fact is that bickering and arguments are commonplace in any company and do not qualify as conflicts that need intervention. However, the need to manage conflicts and situations arises when they threaten to disrupt the smooth flow of work, lower productivity and damage the good name of the company. Such conflicts, when left unchecked will immediately affect the quality of service provided to customers and the quality of products offered by the company. Customers are not and should not be concerned with the internal matters of the company but it is immediately evident to them if something is not right internally. As customers sense trouble, they would begin their search to do business with your competitors and would switch sooner than a company can make amends. Signs of internal conflicts do not die down that easily and as news spreads, the company’s reputation can take a severe beating – sometimes irreparably.

So what are some of the most effective methods for any company and its leadership to manage conflicts to ensure that the company’s reputation and productivity do not suffer? The key to manage conflicts well is to seek clarity and understanding first. The reason of a conflict could be very different from what it appears to be – in fact, the basis of the conflict could be something completely unrelated to the current situation. Getting to the root cause / causes would be essential before trying to resolve or even manage conflicts. The other major factor that would contribute toward effectively resolution of conflicts is to acknowledge that there is a problem / issue. Irrespective of how small or insignificant the subject of conflict is, if it is disrupting the smooth functioning of any process and relationships, it requires management. Conflicts do not immediately erupt – there are always reasons and factors that would have led to them emerging and if left unmanaged getting out of control.

The managers / leaders responsible for teams require to enhance constantly their conflict resolution skills. This would entail patience, calmness and composure, an unbiased attitude and a willingness to smoothen things. Fair and quick decision-making are crucial for anyone to manage conflicts as one wrong move could further spur the conflict and alienate the people involved. If a manager or leader is perceived as biased or someone who has ‘favourites’, people lose trust and decide to work on the situation as they deem most appropriate. This does not even sound right!

In the process of focusing on higher productivity and profits, it is important that those responsible to manage conflicts target the problem and not the people involved. Laying blame and targeting individuals will only serve to antagonise people and they would refuse to listen to anything. Such an approach will move people further apart and turn a minor conflict into a full-fledged company crisis. Even if it appears that the conflict is caused by personality clashes or any other so-called ‘frivolous’ reasons, it is imperative that it is managed effectively and immediately.

In the process of managing conflicts, the ‘mediator’ must lay down clear rules and guidelines that every person would need to comply with and all those involved must express their acceptance. There must be adequate opportunity provided to all involved to put forward their point of view and ensure that the others hear them out patiently. Those involved should attempt to understand the other person’s perspective rather than trying to force their opinions on everyone. The lines of communication must be open and clear such that all those involved can express themselves clearly and find ways to resolve the conflict. They must seek clarity from each other as to what the other perceives as a problem and what were the situations and compelling reasons that led to the conflict. Remaining unemotional and composed are the best ways to manage conflicts.

The ‘mediator’ / person responsible to manage the conflict should have adequate training to take informed yet swift decisions to resolve the issue immediately. Appearing unsure or ‘wishy-washy’ could detract from the trust that people would have and they would doubt the intentions and resolution.

The fact is that conflicts left unattended or unresolved can prove very costly for a business from the points of view of – lowered productivity, unhappy workforce, poor customer service, lack of innovative and creative products, internal strife and damage to company reputation. Which customer, investor or other stakeholder would want to associate with a company that cannot manage its internal affairs and conflicts? When a company is able to manage conflicts effectively, it can open the path to positive change and clear communication between all its employees, which will in turn lead to the success of the company.

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