Destructive conflict loses good people

Anne works for a boss, Kevin, who is a bully. Kevin will place unrealistic demands Anne, frequently shouts at her, and knowingly sabotages her work. When Anne went to Human Resources to seek support, what attention she received was unhelpful as they sought to justify Kevin’s behaviour. Overworked, stressed and increasingly unhealthy, and simply tired of destructive conflict, Anne left the job. Kevin then moved onto another target, David. And now David’s performance is starting to suffer as is his health.

Consequences can cost dearly

Overall workplace culture and performance did not improve when Anne left. The team and organisation’s dynamics remain constant – only the target has changed. There are costs associated with not addressing destructive conflict including higher turnover rates and recruitment/training costs, lost productivity and low morale. Other costs that damage business are a tarnished reputation from former employees relaying extremely bad experiences at the company as well as the likelihood that a customer will witness such negative events, further diminishing the company’s reputation.

Conditions of destructive conflict

So what conditions in an organisation make it so that such harmful and destructive conflicts take shape, go unaddressed and become so costly?

1. Perceptions

Senior management and owners view such individuals as seeking to drive results. Those who can’t keep up with the high standards of the bully or high conflict person are seen as slackers.

Tip: No matter your position in the company, keep track of the costs these conflicts take on you, your team and your department. The bully spends 4 hours a day, almost every day, berating someone.  Keep track – dates, times, people, duration, reason/trigger. Do customers make comments about the poor atmosphere? Take note– dates, times, people, duration, reason/trigger.

How much time is spent talking about the conflict during the workday? Those hours represent lost productivity by yourself, your teammates and others who are involved. Take note– dates, times, people, duration, reason/trigger. How many times have you approached another manager, an HR representative or someone else to seek redress? How much time have they spent addressing the same or very similar issue? Those hours take away from the bottom line. Keep track– dates, times, people, duration, reason/trigger. Where possible keep the documents, emails, and other tangibles of costs.

Result: When you have the opportunity to speak with other managers, senior managers and/or the owner(s) you have documented evidence as to how much the situation is taking away from their bottom line. You are in a stronger position to encourage them to seek appropriate redress for destructive and harmful behaviour.

2. Isolation

One party in conflict tends to be isolated or seek to isolate the other. This breaks down communication, reduces the likelihood of being able to resolve the conflict, and harms many other relationships.

Tip: Organise events for the entire team such as a sit-down lunch in the cafeteria where everyone is invited. Ensure that the hours are during work hours (so as to not exclude those with other time commitments such as parenting). Ensure that participation is at no monetary cost (so that those with lower income can still actively participate. People can bring their own lunch if they can’t afford to eat at a restaurant). Encourage a time for everyone to stand and address the group about something positive that happened that week.

Result: At least one event on a regular basis includes everyone in which there the entire group present. Those who are in conflict will seek to isolate the other party. This regular occasion brings every team member to light and reduces their ostracism. It creates some positive sentiment in the group.

3. Self-Empowerment

When faced with a hostile work environment, it is important to engage in self-care. When stress mounts, the grind of going to work takes its toll on you personally, your family, your friends and the quality of your work.

Tip: There may be resources available to you within the company in the form of benefits – such as counselling and other forms of support. It is likely that there are informal and low-cost community groups that address similar issues. Having a support group to share these experiences can reduce your stress, improve your overall wellness and disposition. Look at community bulletin boards, local topic-specific support groups, and not-for-profit organisations that extend specialised services to address these problems. There is also an array of for-profit services including legal advice, career coaching, conflict coaching, and so on that may provide valuable insight.

Result: You reduce your own isolation, gain skills, expand your circle of support and improve your ability to adapt in a healthy and constructive manner.

Renée helps business get unstuck. Through business relationship mapping, conflict resolution and leadership development, Renée helps entrepreneurs and businesses understand their ecosystems, identify underutilised resources and opportunities to engage.

Renée works at both ends of the spectrum: from the fun stuff of building excellent teams to dealing with low morale. She helps managers take workplace bullies by the horns, address long standing conflicts, all of the frustrating stuff to harnessing the energy in a conflict to collaborate, innovate, and build better businesses.

Renée is a speaker, trainer, coach and consultant.